New independent climate study confirms global warming is real

Bad Astronomy
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Oct. 21 2011 6:00 AM

New independent climate study confirms global warming is real

Before I say anything else in this post, I will start off right away and say that the results I'll be discussing here have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Because of that, the results need to be taken with a grain of salt. However, due to the nature of the study's foundation and funders, which I will get to in a moment, the results are most definitely news-worthy.

The study is called the Berkeley Earth Project (BEP), and what they found was stated simply and beautifully in their own two-page summary:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Global warming is real, according to a major study released today. Despite issues raised by climate change skeptics, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study finds reliable evidence of a rise in the average world land temperature of approximately 1° C since the mid-1950s.

Wow. Of course, I would change one word in there. Can you guess what it is? The answer is below.



Big deal

Now, we've known this for a while. Study after study has shown that the Earth is warming, that the past decade has been the hottest on record, and that the rise in temperature has been about a degree. So what's the big deal here?

The big deal is that this was an independent team of researchers who conducted the study (including, interestingly, Saul Perlmutter, who just won the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe, and knows a thing or two about data analysis), and whose funding was overwhelmingly donated by the private sector and not from any government. The study was initiated by Berkeley physicist Richard Muller, who was concerned that government researchers weren't being as open as possible with their methods. He gathered together a team of scientists, and they used data from 39,000 temperature stations around the world, far more than the previous studies. They have put all their data and methodology online for anyone to investigate.

And if you're wondering who these private groups were, they're listed on the BEP website. The largest single donor? Why, it's the Koch brothers, über-conservatives who have pumped millions of dollars into climate change denial. I find that... interesting.

Anyone claiming that climate scientists are alarmists only trying to protect their grant money will have to think about that one for a while.



You're getting warmer

So what did the scientists working on BEP find? Well, first, and perhaps most importantly, their results agree in large part with what has been found by other groups: temperatures over land are rising, and that rise took a sudden leap up a few decades ago:

This plot shows what's called the temperature anomaly, the change in temperature from some average value. In this case, they took the values from 1950 to 1980 and used that as a baseline -- this is pretty standard practice in climate studies. Four different studies are plotted, including the BEP results in black. As you can see, all of them show a big rise, and the BEP results agree closely with (or are even greater than) the results from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Scientists at NASA/GISS were attacked heavily during "climategate" for (at best) being misleading with their results. As you can see, that turned out to be wrong all along. As we knew all along, in fact.

There were other very interesting results as well. For example, a favorite target for attack were the temperature readings from many of the monitoring stations around the country; the claim was that they suffer from urban heat effect, that is, they are near cities and therefore would be anomalously warm. The new study shows this is not a factor in the average land temperature rise; while some stations do appear warmer from this, they represent a tiny fraction of the total number of monitoring stations.

Not only that, stations that were ranked as "poor" in a survey done by Anthony Watts wound up showing the same warming results as those he marked as "OK". What BEP found is that if you take enough data, the warming trends show up even if an individual result may be low quality.

The BEP reports are fascinating reading, and I whole-heartedly suggest you take a look. That's why they've been made public. Again, I'll note that these have not been peer-reviewed, so it'll be interesting to see the reactions to the public data and methods. But given the scientists involved, and Muller's own admission that he didn't like the way the previous science had been done and so he wanted to go over all this himself, I suspect this report will withstand the scrutiny.



Facing the facts

In the report summary, BEP Executive Director Elizabeth Muller says she hopes the results "will help cool the debate over global warming by addressing many of the valid concerns of the skeptics in a clear and rigorous way."

I strongly suspect they won't. I do like her use of the word "valid"; so many of the attacks we've seen have not been so. There have been legitimate doubts raised scientifically, of course, about various factors that go into the results we've seen over the years. It looks like BEP now has those covered.

Still, her thoughts are mirrored by Bob Ward, the policy and communications director for the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, who said:

So-called 'sceptics' should now drop their thoroughly discredited claims that the increase in global average temperature could be attributed to the impact of growing cities. [...] It is now time for an apology from all those, including US presidential hopeful Rick Perry, who have made false claims that the evidence for global warming has been faked by climate scientists.

This, of course, will never happen.

That's because of that one word I said I would change in the report's summary paragraph. That word is "skeptic", and in far too many cases it should be changed to "denier".

That includes a lot of other government officials who seem to overwhelmingly have an "R" listed as their party affiliation.



Eternal vigilance

I know this new study won't sway climate change deniers. It can't, because nothing can. The reason for that is simple: This isn't about the science. If it were, the conversation would have been over years ago. Instead, it goes on, because it's about ideology, not facts.

It's nice to see the previous scientific studies bolstered by this independent one, and there's more good news in that the American public now seems to understand that global warming is indeed real. And it was nice to see BEP lead scientist Richard Muller saying, at the bottom of a BBC article on this, that these results support the idea that it's humans causing the rise in temperatures.

But, as I have been saying all along, there will never be a "crossing the finish line" moment. Whether it's the Moon Hoax, or vaccines causing autism, or psychics talking to the dead, or climate change denial, this will be a continuing fight. It's tiring, I know. But we should remember the words of Andrew Jackson:

"... Eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing."

Tip o' the thermometer to Doug Troy, and the many others who alerted me to this, and Maurice Clark for the link to the survey about American attitudes toward global warming.



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