One frequent topic on this blog is that the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming actually rests on two separate, unrelated propositions. One, that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere increases temperatures. And two, that the Earth’s climate is dominated by positive feedbacks that multiply the warming from Co2 alone by 3x or more. Proposition one is well-grounded, and according to the IPCC (which this report does not dispute) the warming from Co2 alone is about 1.2C per doubling of Co2 concentrations. Proposition two is much, much iffier, which is all the more problematic since 2/3 or more of the hypothesized future warming typically comes from the feedback.
We have to do a little legwork, because this report bends over backwards to not include any actual science. For example, as far as I can tell, it does not actually establish a range of likely climate sensitivity numbers, but we can back into them.
The report uses CO2 concentrations numbers for “do nothing” scenarios (no global warming legislation) of between 850 and 950 ppm in 2100. These are labeled as the IPCC A2 and A1F1 scenarios. For these scenarios, between 2000 and 2100 they show warming of 6F and 7F respectively. Now, I need to do some conversions. 850 and 950 ppm represent about 1.25 and 1.5 doublings from 2000 levels. The temperatures for these are 3.3C and 3.9C. This means that the assumed sensitivity in these charts (as degrees Celsius per doubling) is around 2.6, though my guess is that there are time delays in the model and the actual number is closer to 3. This is entirely consistent with the last IPCC report.
OK, that seems straight forward. Except having used these IPCC numbers on pages 23-25, they quickly abandon them in favor of higher numbers. Here for example, is a chart from page 29:
Note the map on the right, which is the end of century projection for the US. The chart shows a range of warming of 7-11 degrees F for a time period centered on 2090 (they boxed that range on the thermometer, not me), but the chart on page 25 shows average warming in the max emissions case in 2090 to be about 7.5F against the same baseline (you have to be careful, they keep moving the baseline around on these charts). It could be that my Mark I integrating eyeball is wrong, but that map sure looks like more than an average 7.5F increase. It could be that the US is supposed to warm more than the world average, but the report never says so that I can find, and the US (even by the by the numbers in the report) has warmed less than the rest of the globe over the last 50 years.
The solution to this conundrum may be on page 24 when they say:
Based on scenarios that do not assume explicit climate policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global average temperature is projected to rise by 2 to 11.5°F by the end of this century90 (relative to the 1980-1999 time period).
Oddly enough (well, oddly for a science document but absolutely predictably for an advocacy paper) the high end of this range, rather than the median, seems to be the number used through the rest of the report. This 11.5F probably implies a climate sensitivity around 5 C/doubling. Using the IPCC numaber of 1.2 for CO2 alone, means that this report is assuming that as much as 75% of the warming comes from positive feedback effects.
So, since most of the warming, and all of the catastrophe, comes from the assumption that the climate system is dominated by net positive feedback, one would assume the report would address itself to this issue. Wrong.
I did a search for the word “feedback” in the document just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Here are all the references in the main document (outside of footnotes) to feedback used in this context:
- P15: “However, the surface warming caused by human-produced increases in other greenhouse gases leads to an increase in atmospheric water vapor, since a warmer climate increases evaporation and allows the atmosphere to hold more moisture. This creates an amplifying “feedback loop,” leading to more warming.”
- P16: “For example, it is known from long records of Earth’s climate history that under warmer conditions, carbon tends to be released, for instance, from thawing permafrost, initiating a feedback loop in which more carbon release leads to more warming which leads to further release, and so on.”
- P17: “For example, it is known from long records of Earth’s climate history that under warmer conditions, carbon tends to be released, for instance, from thawing permafrost, initiating a feedback loop in which more carbon release leads to more warming which leads to further release, and so on.
That’s it – the entire sum text of feedbacks. All positive, no discussion of negative feedbacks, and no discussion of the evidence how we know positive feedbacks outweight negative feedbacks. The first one of the three is particularly disengenuous, since most serious scientists will admit that we don’t even know the sign of the water vapor feedback loop, and there is good evidence the sign is actually negative (due to albedo effects from increased cloud formation).