What’s the easiest way to show the world isn’t warming? Simple: ignore the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.
This is what the latest non-peer reviewed report released by Lord Lawson’s climate science denying charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), has done.
The GWPF paid Terence Mills, professor of applied statistics at Loughborough University, £3,000 to write the report. In it, his statistical model finds that there will be no increase in average global temperatures by the end of the century.
This is great news for the GWPF, which is touting the report as having “direct bearing on policy issues”.
There’s only one problem. The report does not take into account assumptions about the rate of warming caused by rising emissions (something which the IPCC climate change forecasts do).
And as climate experts and commentators quickly pointed out, the impact of CO2 on global temperatures is kind of important.
— Leo Hickman (@LeoHickman) February 23, 2016
Speaking to DeSmog UK, Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said: “It’s an interesting academic exercise with very little value to policy makers.”
“Statistical models are only valid if you assume that the underlying factors are not going to change in the future,” Ward explained. “If the underlying factors are changing, then your statistical model just simply doesn’t work, and that’s widely recognised.”
He continued: “We know greenhouse gas concentrations are going up and that’s a fundamental for temperature and that’s why statistical models have very little skill in predicting the future, they’re not able to take account of the fundamental physics. That’s why the climate models are probably of more value to policy makers than this [report].”
CO2 and Temperatures
Put simply, what Mills does in the report is a statistical analysis of past temperature data, and then extrapolates the findings into the future.
In using this method, Mills told the Times: “It’s extremely difficult to isolate a relationship between temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions.”
And so, because it is not possible to find a statistical relationship between temperature and rising CO2 in the past under his method of analysis, then this means such a relationship won’t be included in his forward-looking forecast for the rest of the 21st century.
As the report itself explains: “In this report we focus on forecasting models in general, and their application to climate data in particular, while leaving aside the potentially interesting question of how such models might or might not be reconciled with the physical theory underpinning climate models.”
Commenting on the report, climate professor Richard Betts of the University of Exeter and head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, told DeSmog UK: “The report written by Prof Terence Mills and published by the GWPF is very strange – it basically ignores physics completely, and indeed also contradicts previous work by the same author.
“Prof Mills has previously published peer-reviewed work which accepts and indeed supports the fundamental concepts of the greenhouse effect and warming caused by increased CO2, but oddly this report commissioned by the GWPF seems to throw all that away and assume (contrary to extensive well-established evidence) that increasing CO2 has no effect on temperature whatsoever.”
Comical, Confusing Conclusions
And sure enough, the report’s predictions were rendered null in one swift Tweet by Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). (Last month, NASA GISS published data showing that 2015 was the hottest year on record.)
As Schmidt showed, 2015 average global temperatures were already hotter than what the report’s models predict for that year.
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) February 23, 2016
— Richard Betts (@richardabetts) February 23, 2016
— Doug McNeall (@dougmcneall) February 23, 2016
In particular, Betts and Doug McNeall, climate experts at the Met Office Hadley Centre (a world leading centre for climate science research), found the report’s findings comical.
As Betts explained: “The proof of a new idea should be in whether it can successfully make predictions, but bizarrely the report immediately shoots itself in the foot here. It shows a retrospective ‘forecast’ of global temperature for last year which looks very different to what actually happened – the actual observed temperature was much warmer than the upper end of Mills’s 95 percent forecast interval. However the report did not make this comparison itself – in fact it failed to show the actual observed temperature for 2015.
“Nevertheless, anybody who has even a slight familiarity with climate science could spot this problem immediately, and indeed, a graph showing the discrepancy was circulating on social media within minutes of the report being released. The article in the Times included a figure which clearly showed the problem with the ‘forecast’ if you looked closely enough – but curiously there was no comment on this in the article itself.”
For Ward however, his criticisms aren’t directed to Mills, but rather the GWPF “which claims these results are of significance to policy makers, which they’re simple not,” he said.
“I’m highly suspicious of the commissioning process that the GWPF went through,” Ward said, “it looks like yet another example of the GWPF trying to find evidence to fit is ideological aims.”
He continued: “It would be interesting to know if, when they approached Professor Mills, they specified what the findings of his pamphlet should be.”
Photo: Cesar Astudillo via Flickr