Lame, Desperate Climate Alarm Logic

Via Kevin Drum:

Chris Mooney reports today that there’s also a very simple reason: global warming has raised sea levels by about eight inches over the past century, and this means that when Sandy swept ashore it had eight extra inches of water to throw at us.….So that’s that. No shilly shallying. No caveats. “There is 100 percent certainty that sea level rise made this worse,” says sea level expert Ben Strauss. “Period.”

Hmm, OK.  First, to be clear, sea level rise over the last 100 years has been 17-20cm, which is 6.7-7.7 inches, which the author alarmingly rounded up to 8 inches.  But the real problem is the incredible bait and switch here.  They are talking about the dangers of anthropogenic global warming, but include the sea level rise from all warming effects, most of which occured long before we were burning fossil fuels at anywhere near current rates.  For example, almost half this rise was before 1950, where few argue that warming and sea level rise was due to man.  In fact, sea level rise is really a story of a constant 2-3mm a year rise since about 1850 as the world warms from the little ice age.  There has been no modern acceleration.

Graph—Global mean sea level: 1870–2007(source)

It is pretty heroic to blame all of a trend on an input that really only appeared significantly about 2/3 into the period on this chart.  By this chart, the warming since 1950, the period the IPCC blames warming mostly on man’s CO2, the sea level rise is only 10cm, or about 4 inches.  And to even claim four inches form CO2 since 1950 one would have to make the astonishing claim that whatever natural effect was driving sea levels higher since the mid-19th century suddenly halted at the exact same moment man began burning fossil fuels in earnest.    I’m not sure that the Sandy storm surge could even be measured to a precision of four inches or less.

Assuming three of the four inches are due to anthropogenic CO2, then the storm surge was 1.8%  higher due to global warming (taking 14 feet as the storm surge maximum, a number on which there is little agreement, confirming my hypothesis above that we are arguing in the noise).  Mooney’s argument is that damage goes up exponentially with surge height.  Granting this is true, this means that Sandy was perhaps 3.5% worse due to man-made higher sea levels.

So there you have your stark choice — you can shut down the global economy and throw billions of people in India and China back into horrendous poverty, or your 100-year storms will be 3,5% worse.  You make the call.

I would argue that one could find a far bigger contribution to Sandy’s nastiness in New York’s almost pathological refusal to accept in advance of Sandy that their city might be targeted by an Atlantic storm.  Huge percentages of the affected areas of the city are actually fill areas, and there is absolutely no evidence of sea walls or any sort of storm preparation.  I would have thought it impossible to find a seacoast city worse prepared for a storm than was New Orleans, but New York seems to have surpassed it.

As I wrote before, it is crazy to use Sandy as “proof” of a severe storm trend when in fact we are in the midst of a relative hurricane drought.  There is no evidence that the seas in Sandy’s storm track have seen any warming over the last century.

  • Richard III

    The Bering Strait is 100-160 feet deep. 100 feet is 1200 inches divided by 8 inches/century = 150 centuries which is 15000 years. The Bering Land Bridge existed until about 11000 years ago. 8 inches a century since the peak of the last ice age, no AGW needed!

  • netdr

    Thermodynamics tells us that the amount of work that can be done by a system is proportional to the temperature DIFFERENCE between the input and output not the absolute temperature at the input.

    Since CO2 supposedly acts like a blanket to spread the heat it should have made Sandy milder. Indeed Sandy was only a category 1 storm so this effect may have happened.

    Saying CO2 makes storms stronger contradicts thermodynamics and is anti science !!!

  • Predictions for Future Sea Level Rise

    Global sea level has been rising since the late 1700s, according to tide gauges measurements that began in Amsterdam in 1700, in Liverpool, England in 1768 and in Stockholm, Sweden in 1774. These gauges suggest that the rise has been accelerating at 0.01mm/yr^2, and if the conditions that led to this acceleration continue, we can expect sea level will rise by 1.1 ft (0.34 m) by 2100 (Jevrejeva et al., 2008). At a minimum, sea level rise during the 21st century should equal that of the 20th century, about seven inches (0.6 feet, 0.18 m). This is the lower bound given by the IPCC in its 2007 assessment, which projected sea level rise of 0.6 – 1.9 ft (0.18 – 0.59 m) by 2100. However, they cautioned in their report that due to the lack of knowledge about how melting glaciers behave, the actual sea level rise might be higher. Since the publication of the 2007 IPCC report, a number of scientists have argued that the IPCC’s projections of sea level rise are too conservative
    I don’t see anything that says the earth will be linear in its sea level rise. So how can earth not warm faster with accelerated emissions of co2.

    Sea levels around the world are rising. Current sea-level rise potentially impacts human populations (e.g., those living in coastal regions and on islands)[3] and the natural environment (e.g., marine ecosystems).[4] Global average sea level rose at an average rate of around 1.7 ± 0.3 mm per year from 1950 to 2009 and at a satellite-measured average rate of about 3.3 ± 0.4 mm per year from 1993 to 2009,[5] an increase on earlier estimates.[6] It is unclear whether the increased rate reflects an increase in the underlying long-term trend.
    1.7mm to 3.3mm/year 3.3mm/year for 16 years. That appears to be an acceleration.

  • We did our best to answer: We know that a warming climate puts more energy into storms, including hurricanes, loading them with more rainfall and the stronger winds pushing more of a storm surge. That makes flooding more likely. We also know that storm surge now rides higher on sea levels that have risen over the last century due to global warming, amplifying losses where the surge strikes. On the stretch of the Atlantic Coast that spans from Norfolk to Boston, sea levels have been rising four times faster than the global average.

    Read more:
    Some pretty reputable scientists are putting their name on this one. How could a warming world not effect all of our weather.

  • NetDr

    With or without CO2 the sea level rose about the same amount. That is 1 cigarette length in 33 years, so the storm surge would be 100 mm higher than it was 33 years ago.

    BIG DEAL !!!

  • Will Nitschke

    Looking at the long term trend there is no evidence of anthropogenic linked acceleration. The likely contribution of AGW is therefore zero. (In reality it would be more than zero, but so far the contribution is so small, we might as well round down.)

  • The sea walls are only so high. One of the hurricanes went by New Orleans the year after Katrina with the dikes having only a foot and a half left. Sea level is expected to rise due to the thermodynamics of climate change. New Orleans could not make a second time quite easily 50 years out.

  • Will Nitschke

    The waters were Sandy formed and then migrated, had no temperature rise in SST’s for around half a century in that region. In this particular case, the likely contribution of AGW was therefore zero.

  • From Trenberth there was about 1*F out of 5*F in the atlantic ocean. NV and anthro both were present to help this storm along. That combined with high tide, sea level rise and the rare combination of weather fronts coming together we got a superstorm.

  • netdr

    Since CO2 acts like a blanket and spread heat around thermodynamics says it should cause storms to be MILDER !

    Indeed Sandy was only Cat 1 , is there a cat 0 ?

  • Lance

    Jeffery Green,

    “On the stretch of the Atlantic Coast that spans from Norfolk to Boston, sea levels have been rising four times faster than the global average.”

    You do know that the oceans are all connected right?

  • yes

  • All inputs are still not included.

    Pumping Groundwater Raises Sea Level : Discovery News
    Groundwater mining — pumping
    aquifers faster than they can be replenished — can have nasty
    consequences. … it heads toward the sea, where it eventually
    contributes a surprising share of global sea level rise, reports Leonard Konikow, a hydrogeologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.…

  • netdr

    Due to variations in gravity etc it is possible for one place on the oceans surface to be higher than another. It is not possible for a bubble to form from one place RISING FASTER than another. Gravity would have to change !!

  • netdr

    Yes but the rate of rise is uniform !

    Unless gravity changes it must be !


  • netdr

    Since CO2 acts like a blanket making warming more uniform it should make storms less violent shouldn’t it ?

    Thermodynamics says that the amount of work a system can do is proportional to the temperature DIFFERENCE not the absolute temperature !

  • Its strangely inconsistent. Some areas of the world have a falling sea level.

    The historical record from tide gauges shows that large rates have been measured during other periods since the 1950s other than from 1993 to 2003 (Bindoff et al., 2007). The global mean sea level has changed significantly throughout Earth’s history. As mentioned earlier, during the last glacial maximum about 20,000 years ago when the average global temperature was 4° to 7°C colder, sea level was 120 m lower than it is currently (Waelbroeck et al., 2002; Schneider von Deimling, et al., 2006; Rahmstorf, 2007). In contrast, during the Pliocene three million years ago, the climate was 2° to 3°C warmer and the seas were 25–35 m higher than today (Dowsett et al., 1994; Rahmstorf, 2007).

    In addition to experiencing variability over time, sea level is not the same everywhere (see Figure 2). Changes in sea level are also not uniform, as some areas find levels rising faster than others. Despite the world-wide trend of rising sea levels,

    (((((((((( in some places the MSL is currently falling.))))))))))))

  • Energy in from the sun in its diverse frequencies get by the atmosphere and clouds to the tune of 70%. All that energy that gets in leaves as infrared energy. Part of that is at the co2 frequency, another at the H2O freequency and now the man made gases are also contirbuting. More co2 helps slow the escape of inrared leaving the earth. That is what is making us warmer.

  • infrared Heat is being redirected partially by GHG’s mainly co2 and H2O back towards the earth. THe top of the atmosphere is out of balance in a warming direction for a long time to come.
    THe energy stored in the oceans now from extra GHG’s adds fuel to all storms.

    heat always flows spontaneously from regions of higher temperature to regions of lower temperature, and never the reverse, unless external work is performed on the system.

  • THe earth getting a higher energy content comes from what then if not from adding more co2 to the earth’s atmosphere?

    Roughly 5 x 1022 Joules since 2003.
    Since the IPCC’s graph above up to 2003 shows that most of the energy from
    global warming is in the oceans, to a first approximation, Ocean Heat Content
    change since then is going to be close enough to the Total Heat Content

    So, total heat content change from 1961 to 2011 –
    50 years – is approximately 21 x 1022 joules.

    210000000000000000000000 joules

    (a joule is 1 watt for 1 second. So a 100 watt
    light bulb will use 100 joules in 1 second)

    A BIG number but somewhat unreal. So how much
    heat is this. What could it do? What is it in the real world, where we don’t
    routinely look at numbers that big.

    That is HOW Big…?

    This is a rate of heating of 133 Terawatts. Or
    0.261 Watts/m2

    133 Terrawatts is 2 Hiroshima bombs a
    second. Continually since 1961.

    Over 50 years it could heat around 500 trillion
    tonnes of water from 0 °C to 100 °C – around 870,000 Sydney Harbours.

  • Lance


    You are being a bit obtuse. You made a big deal about sea level rising faster on the eastern US shore when the fact is that sea level rise over the last century has been fairly constant, as our host points out in his article.

    To use this mundane fact as proof of the impacts of man made climate change is dishonest, period.

    Of course you work for a putrid political rag, Mother Jones, so I’m not surprised by your behavior.

  • I am an independent small business owner. Wunderground is not Mother Jones.
    Sea level is not straight forward. It is understood and the information can be found if you want to learn about it.
    Since you are a sincere doubter, I doubt you will do that.

  • netdr

    That is impossible unless gravity changes in that place !

    did it ?

  • milo

    “ would have to make the astonishing claim that whatever natural effect was driving sea levels higher since the mid-19th century suddenly halted at the exact same moment man began burning fossil fuels in earnest.”

    Not at all. Fossil fuel burning began in earnest back around 1750. So the effects of that rise in CO2 would be added to the natural rise from any residual warming of the oceans… which would in turn be obscured by the isostatic rebound of the continents, having shed their load of ice.

    Besides, if we take a look at the chart provided, we do see that the rate of increase changes, around 1940. That is, during 1870-1940 there’s one trend line, then from 1940-2007 there’s a more rapidly increasing trend line. And if we look at the shortest trend line, that of the sat-altimeter data (ca. 1993-2007) we find the line is rising even more sharply.

    One cause does not replace another cause. The true picture is multifactorial.

  • milo

    Every stretch of coastline on earth is rising or falling (relative to mean sea level) at its own rate. It has to due with the fact that the continents float on the ocean floor like marshmallows in a cup of hot chocolate, due to their differing densities. Open a geology text and look up “emergent” and “submergent” coastlines.

  • milo

    A geology course would really be helpful. Isostatic rebound is a common means by which a stretch of continent can rise relative to mean sea level. All coastlines around the globe do not rise or fall in the same degree.

    That chart depicted in the article? It’s an average obtained from measuring many, many coastlines around the planet. Every segment of coastline has its own unique character.

    Tangentially, gravitational anomalies do also exist on our home planet. But they don’t have much effect on regional sea levels.

  • milo

    Your observation is in agreement with the fact that large-scale fossil fuel use began to be an issue by about 1750. And in addition to the adoption of coal as fuel, we saw increasing world population and forest clearance at the same time. Interesting that there should be an acceleration in sea level rise just then.

  • Lance

    You wrote an alarmist piece that appeared in Mother Jones. Whether you are on their staff is beside the point. Oh, and to be a real scientist is to be a “sincere doubter” my friend.

    The chart from CSIRO shows very little change in slope from 1930 to present. To argue that this small change in slope is definitely due to the CO2 from fossil fuels is special pleading.

    Then to use the misfortune of others, from hurricane sandy, to promote your politically motivated nonsense is despicable.

    You may have noticed that although Obama won the election he made almost no mention of AGW during his campaign. Just today he was directly asked about climate change and his response, while toeing the party line, was tepid at best and made clear that he realized that economic priorities were more important to the American people, and thus to him.

    People, like yourself, that favor making radical changes to the way we live by limiting the energy that gives us the best living standard humanity has ever known have been ignored by the American people.

    People, other than the aging hippies that read Mother Jones, aren’t buying your alarmist crap anymore.

  • I don’t have a problem with Mother Jones and yet I did not quote mother jones on this post.

    “Then to use the misfortune of others, from hurricane sandy, to promote your politically motivated nonsense is despicable”

    I’m talking global warming. There has been no political speech on my part about this.

    It appears the political speech is more yours. Lets talk global warming and not politics.

  • Good point.

  • milo

    Lance… IMO this conversation could be improved if we agree to discuss the issues as though everyone were being honest and sincere. The political stuff stirs up so much mud our vision becomes impaired.

    Jeffrey’s comments, not to mention my own, are in line with the current thinking about climate drivers, whether natural or man-made. There’s no need to posit deception or fraud. So please respond– to the science.

  • milo

    Richard– you overlooked one important variable. 15,000 years ago the northern continents were under a mass of ice more than a mile deep. This has since melted.

    The melting caused world sea levels to rise some 432 feet, as I recall. And within a very short period. However currently we’re seeing increasingly rapid sea level rise with no comparable melting of landlocked glaciers. So something else is happening.

    Wikipedia has an extremely good article detailing this. I think it’s called “sea level rise”. Lots of references and footnotes for further study.

  • milo

    I’ve just read Pumping Groundwater Raises Sea Level. And I don’t think Discover should ever have printed this. It doesn’t hold up on the face of it.

    71% of the planet’s surface is water. That’s a mighty big bathtub to fill merely by pumping water out of the ground. By this logic we could combat sea level rise just by pumping water back out of the ocean, into big holding tanks.

    The author does note that the effect of pumping groundwater is nearly cancelled by the ability of dams to obstruct the water’s flow back to the sea. But I believe his numbers are wrong by a factor of five or six decimal places.

  • Sounds reasonable. I just don’t have the same reaction to ‘climate change science’ after looking around.

    And now Roger Pielke Sr. is closing down his blog – but not before noting chronic misrepresentation of the science

  • netdr


    Fossil fuel did not become significant around 1750.

    The rate of change does NOT increase noticeably around 1940. And it has gone DOWN the last few years !

  • If we are emitting over 30 gigatons of co2 per year it is hardly going down.

  • WASHINGTON—As people pump groundwater for irrigation, drinking water, and industrial uses, the water doesn’t just seep back into the ground — it also evaporates into the atmosphere, or runs off into rivers and canals, eventually emptying into the world’s oceans. This water adds up, and a new study calculates that by 2050, groundwater pumping will cause a global sea level rise of about 0.8 millimeters per year.

    “Other than ice on land, the excessive groundwater extractions are fast becoming the most important terrestrial water contribution to sea level rise,” said Yoshihide Wada, with Utrecht University in the Netherlands and lead author of the study. In the coming decades, he noted, groundwater contributions to sea level rise are expected to become as significant as those of melting glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and the Antarctic.
    That’s an amazing amount of water.

  • Nope, its predicted that more energy will cause bigger storms.

  • milo

    Again, please look at the chart provided. The trend line does increase at 1940. It’s not an illusion.

    As for the increase in fossil fuel use, it’s most certainly the case that the Age of Coal began in earnest about 1750. The skies over western Europe did indeed darken with smog from coal burning. Also, population pressures ca. 1750 dictated a big increase in forest clearance worldwide, both for food production and for firewood. The net effect is the same as in fossil fuel use: more sequestered carbon gets converted into atmospheric carbon. Most conclusively, this increase is obvious in the Greenland ice record.

    But I’m interested in your last comment. Can you give us a source for the thought that global mean sea level has “gone down the last few years”? Please check the Wikipedia article on global sea level rise first, before answering.

  • netdr

    That defies logic and thermodynamics.

    Temperature DIFFERENCE not ABSOLUTE Temperature causes winds or there would be a wind storm every day it was over100 F wouldn’t there ?

  • Only if you have misconceptions about thermodynamics and logic. Why have climatologists suggested exactly the opposite from what you suggest if it defies logic and thermodynamics?

    Just an example, but these things have been predicted long before and the effects have been measured.Individual storms can not be attributed to warming, the average intensity can.

    To extremely simplify it: more energy gives greater energy differences which allow bigger storms to form.

  • netdr

    Whoever wrote that article fell asleep in the first lecture on thermodynamics.

    The amount of work that can be done by any system is proportional to the temperature DIFFERENCE between input and output not the ABSOLUTE TEMPERATURE !

    That is logical isn’t it ?

    When it is 100 + are there always wild windstorms ?

    How can people ignore their own experience to support their religion ?

  • A truism isnt logical in it self, you cant say the sky is blue then claim that you are right.Temperature difference does determine the amount of work that can be done.

    But you arent interested in an actual discussion, you tell us thats it is a religion, as if it has not got a scientific basis and comprehensive theory.

    But you fail to understand what scientists claim, or deliberately ignore it.

    I never heard the claim” temperature causes bigger storms” so you fight a strawman.What is claimed is that more energy in the system causes bigger temperature differences. The ocean warms up more, it stores more energy wich fuels storms. More energy allows them to grow bigger, The ocean acts as a buffer to store energy.

    Or: more energy gives greater energy differences which allow bigger storms to form.

    How and why do you think it defies logic and thermodynamics? You havent made an argument yet, you just keep repeating a statement.

    Repeating statements without making actual arguments sound more like a religion, it seems like you wont accept anything that contradict your assumptions.

    I am willing to listen to you if you are willing to do the same.

  • netdr

    Sure :

    Sea level actually went down for a few years and bopped back up.

    Why people predict more than 1 cigarette length in 33 years is a mystery.

    Computer models have so far predicted much much much more warming than actually happens !!!

  • netdr

    The burning of fossil fuels did NOT BECOME SIGNIFICANT around 1750.

    The temperature wend DOWN between 1940 and 1978 despite a world war and gigatons of CO2. Something else is far far more important than CO2.


    First graph may give you some understanding of why there is variability instead of “Smooth” sea level rise.

    Second shows there are changing trendlines, tell me what way they point please? is the sea level change increasing or decreasing?

  • milo

    I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea that someone could say that sea level has gone down the last few years, and then produce the chart you link to as evidence. Look at the trend line on the first chart. Do you really think the line’s going down?

    As for the second chart, nearly all sea level fluctuation has to do with how warm the ocean is. Very obviously, you should expect to find a link between ENSO and sea level; and in fact that’s what the chart shows.

    Next, take another look at the first chart, where there is a dip of about a year’s duration, in 2011. Then click on the link just to the right, to an article titled “The 2011 La Nina: So Strong, the Oceans Fell”.

    And finally, you’re a little out of date with your last observation. There was a time, a while back, where observed temps weren’t warming as fast as predicted temps– and scientists wondered why. Then they discovered atmospheric aerosols. And found the cooling effect of these airborne SOx, NOx, particulates and dust neatly accounted for the disparity. Please look it up.

    Lately we’ve been finding that in fact the predictions made by official bodies have been conservative. It’s currently getting warm at a faster rate than they’d been predicting. And you can look that up also.

  • Doug Proctor

    In 1930 a significant increase occurred after about a 5 year slowdown. The slowdown corresponds to a global cooling period but the increased rate of rise does not reflect a substantial increase rate of heating.

    Ice has to increase its energy content a lot to make the transition from a solid (ice) at 0*C to a liquid (water) at 0*C. Is it possible that what we see at 1930 is the overall warming of large amounts of continental and shelf ice to 0*C from the depths of the LIA? The atmosphere would have been dumping a lot of thermal energy into the ice sheets without affecting temperatures of the ice during the prior years. After 1930, the temp dump would have transformed CONTINENTAL ice to water, which would then have increased sea levels. The buffering action of state tranformations would also have reduced solar irradiation from warming near Greenland and Antarctia waters, reducing thermal expansion in those areas (and hence globally).

    The 20-odd year cycle of sunspot activity and/or the PDO/AMO cycles (combined) is too obvious to be worth mentioning, but I just did. Solar or oceanic cylces can hardly be ignored when this 20-odd year cycle shows so easily.

    A straight-line projection of the trend from 1875/1930 to 2012 makes it look like “something else” has given almost 100mm of the 185mm of rise. Global temperatures could have done this, but perhaps as I describe above, what we are seeing is the delayed response to general warming due to a state change involving a step-function of energy absorption.

    Each time we think something might be involved, we do not have to worry that it is the only thing involved. The IPCC/Trenberth narrative is simple and crisis-dependent. If we can show that the 2.8/3.1 mm/yr is composed of several variables then whatever is left is all that is possible for CO2-heating. And if that is not enough for the IPCC model, the model fails. (Which I would claim it has, already.)

  • Will Nitschke

    Yet for all these huge numbers the empirical measurements show zero observable effect. I suppose I can make myself sound really really tall by citing my height in nanometres too…