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We're history

15 Nov 2023 | OP ED Watch

At CDN we’re always happy to see people trying to look at the historical record. But not always with the results. Like this latest piece blaring “New data suggest 2023 is set to be the warmest in the last 125,000 years after a spate of abnormal weather patterns.” Oh really? You have new data on the Holocene Climatic Optimum or the Roman Warm Period? Or do you just believe anything on warming?

The piece, from The i, does get some points, really it does, for delving into the sources at least a little bit. It says that:

“Scientists at the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme, said last month’s scorching temperatures mean that it was the world’s hottest October on record, topping the previous record set by October 2019…. The assessment for the last 125,000 years has been based on Copernicus’ data, which goes back to 1940, and data from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has longer-term statistics including readings from sources such as ice cores, tree rings and coral deposits.”

Cool. So to speak. Not the data back to 1940, which hardly tells us much about the last 125,000 years. But the effort to deal with the proxies going back further, which deserves at least partial commendation.

Only partial, alas. For one thing, there would have been some value in mentioning, if the author knew it, that the entire period from around 16,000 years ago back to 125,000 is of no relevance because it was a glaciation. And it certainly should have been included that if you go back even further, and the proxies do, then in the Eemian interglacial you find temperatures higher than modern ones in a period where it’s clearly all natural, which pretty much rubbishes the whole theory that today’s conditions are unprecedented and must be unnatural.

Context also requires noting that it’s not just the Eemian. The previous La Bouchet interglacial was a bit warmer than ours, though cooler than the Eemian. But the Purfleet some 337,000 to 300,000 years ago rivaled the Eemian, and the Hoxnian back around 424-374,000 years ago was also warmer than ours. So current conditions are well within the bounds of recent natural variability and it’s kind of important to the story.

Going back exactly 125,000 years then coming to a screeching halt is cherry-picking of a brazen sort. And speaking of screeching, the piece also includes:

“Samantha Burgess, deputy director of the C3S, said: ‘October 2023 has seen exceptional temperature anomalies, following on from four months of global temperature records being obliterated. We can say with near certainty that 2023 will be the warmest year on record, and is currently 1.43ºC above the pre-industrial average. The sense of urgency for ambitious climate action going into Cop28 has never been higher.’”

Scientavists again. As in scientist-activists. With more activism than science because there’s something very suspicious in the data Burgess presents to anyone who is even slightly unwary. And it’s that 1.43°C figure.

For starters, two decimal places when you’re comparing modern thermometer readings to tree rings? Real science deals in margins of error. And in this context, we can’t help noticing that Scientific American, in trying to convince us that “Earth Just Had the Hottest 12-Month Span in Recorded History”, says:

“Nonprofit organization Climate Central crunched international data and calculated that from November 2022 to October 2023, Earth’s temperature was 1.3 degrees C (2.3 degrees F) above preindustrial levels”.

So if we’re doing “settled science” here, can you please explain whether it’s 1.3 or 1.43. What is the error bar here? Oh, and if you’re going to sling terms around please define them. As in what do you think “preindustrial” even means?

No. Sorry. Too busy. We have a planet to save. Thus:

“This stark milestone is the latest in a string of superlatives to emerge this year that show how much carbon pollution has warmed the planet – and how that trend is accelerating. It also comes just weeks before international negotiators are set to meet and hash out issues around achieving the Paris climate accord’s fundamental goal: limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial temperatures.”

Accelerating? Where’s the sign of acceleration? But never mind.

Back to the Copernicus claim because, we repeat, what is this famous “pre-industrial average”? And yes we do harp a bit on when the Industrial Revolution is supposed to have begun because if the alarmists can’t provide a precise date for something that well-documented in the historical record, then why should we trust them when they provide a precise global average temperature for a time period they can’t nail down, based on a small sample of temperature readings from the few places that happened to be collecting the data?

We’re normally told the planet is, say, 1.1°C above the “pre-industrial average” which apparently typically means in the year 1850. But the Industrial Revolution actually started around 1776 with James Watt’s radically improved internal combustion engine. And regardless of what happened between 1776 and 1850, the reconstructed temperature record between, say, the Younger Dryas and the Little Ice certainly seems to include mostly years warmer than 1850.

Sure, the Dark Ages were cooler and so was the onset of the Iron Age. But the Roman and Minoan Warm Periods were, as the names suggest, warmer, and the Holocene Climatic Optimum was not just warmer but longer. It lasted around 4,000 years from about 9,500 years ago to about 5,500 and was warmer than today and thus a lot warmer than 1850. So where does this figure that the “pre-industrial average” was itself 0.33°C cooler than 1850 come from? You might get there if you treat the entire Pleistocene Epoch as “pre-industrial” since most of its 2.6 million years or so have seen glaciations. But if you start adding in the Pliocene, the Miocene, the Eocene and what the heck the Cretaceous, well, you get the idea. And if they do too, we want them to specify what they’re referring to by “pre-industrial” and for bonus points why.

5 comments on “We're history”

  1. "But the Industrial Revolution actually started around 1776 with James Watt’s radically improved internal combustion engine."
    Ahem. James Watt's radically improved steam engine was an external combustion engine - the combustion occured outside the power cylinder, unlike, say, a diesel engine in which the combustion occurs inside the cylinder. And because fuel efficieny only becomes important when you have to carry your fuel with you, the original and very inefficient Newcomen steam engine outsold Watt's engine until steam-powered transport (ships and railways) came into use early in the nineteenth century. But it was probably true to say that the industrial revolution started sometime in the eighteenth century.

  2. All the temperatures you mention are to the nearest tenth of a degree. I might begin to take them seriously when the alarmists show me a pre-industrial (circa 1750) thermometer that reliably measures temperature to within one tenth of a degree. Then again, perhaps not. There is a laundry list of potential errors in the historical records which renders the margin of error to be 3 or 4 degrees. Can you imagine any real scientist saying "The temperature has risen by one degree give or take three degrees.". It's preposterous.

  3. Aside from the oops about "... James Watt’s radically improved internal combustion engine." when all steam engines are external combustion, isn't it a truism that we were burning coal, coke, wood, charcoal and peat for a long time pre James' innovation? Otherwise, how on earth did they get the steel and cast iron to make same and much more?

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