The Real Issue is Not CO2, it is Feedback

Russ Steele

Warren Meyer writes for Forbes Magazine on climate issues. I once meet Warren at a Rural Counties Conference in Lake Tahoe. He gave a presentation on climate change, and I drove up to introduce my self. He has a very pragmatic approach to the issue.

According to Warren the main scientific issue that really matters is understanding climate feedback. Doubling of CO2 can only warm the earth about 1º C. For the temperatures forecast by computer models, there has to be some positive feedback in the climate system. In a post at Climate Skeptic Warren writes:

Direct warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 does not create a catastrophe, and at most, according to the IPCC, might warm the Earth another degree over the next century.  The catastrophe comes from the assumption that there are large net positive feedbacks in the climate system that multiply a small initial warming from CO2 many times.  It is this assumption that positive feedbacks dominate over negative feedbacks that creates the catastrophe.  It is telling that when prominent supporters of the catastrophic theory argue the science is settled, they always want to talk about the greenhouse gas effect (which most of us skeptics accept), NOT the positive feedback assumption.  The assumption of net positive climate feedback is not at all settled — in fact there is as much evidence the feedback is net negative as net positive — which may be why catastrophic theory supporters seldom if ever mention this aspect of the science in the media.

Here is an example from one of the slides that Warren uses in his climate change talks. Climate models predict there will increases in sea surface temperature. If there is no significant increase, the models must be wrong.

I agree with Warren, until we establish if atmospheric moistures is a positive or negative feedback the climate debate is not over. That said, there is growing evidence that atmospheric moisture is a negative feed back. Here are two examples:

http://www.drroyspencer.com/2010/09/five-reasons-why-water-vapor-feedback-might-not-be-positive/

http://www.gewex.org/images/feb2010.pdf

I will add more samples as they come available in my research.  If you disagree, please provide some alternative examples in the comments.

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About Russ Steele
Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.

6 Responses to The Real Issue is Not CO2, it is Feedback

  1. ggoodknight says:

    Yes, the real issue is climate sensitivity to CO2, and it’s feedbacks (or lack of them) that modify the sensitivity from the basic thermodynamic determination of about 1.1 degree C for a doubling of CO2.

    I recall there was one recent presentation (the Dec ’11 AGU meeting?) that made a good case that there isn’t one single sensitivity… that it was a range, from negative feedbacks (ie stable temps) near the equator, to maybe even a weak positive feedback near the poles. I’ll see if I can find some references and get the above recollections straightened out.

    On a related subject, it appears Frisch has a lot more spare time when he thinks he’s on a roll…

  2. ggoodknight says:

    It should also be mentioned that the 11 different general circulation models that demonstrate the positive feedbacks demonstrate wildly differing sensitivities, ranging from less than 2C to over 5C, all dominated by positive feedbacks. They didn’t converge on the 3C per doubling of CO2 sensitivity adopted by the IPCC as the answer, that was determined by just taking the average.

    It does appear the incorrectly theorized positive feedbacks were used to cover the unknown (and fiercely denied by the IPCC community) positive forcings from the solar magnetic-cosmic ray effects on cloud cover, but that isn’t yet proven to the satisfaction of all.

  3. Sean says:

    The issue of feedback is all about water vapor. Unfortunately that nasty water vapor can form clouds which reflects a lot more light during the day than trap heat at night, particularly for clouds at low altitudes. It absolutely amazes me the certainty declared by the IPCC when they readily admit they really don’t model clouds and the hydrologic cycle very well. With GCM’s the only dials or drivers they have are green house gases and volcanos. Because of this, they cannot understand the medievil warm period, the Roman warm period, the little ice age or other dark ages (which were cold). Instead of fixing their models, they hired paleoclimatologists like Michael Mann to smooth the historic record and voila, everything is “consistent with the model”. One thing not consistent with the models is a decade or more stable temperatures which the consensus scientists insist is just noise. If this constinues another decade, or worse yet world cools a bit, then mother nature’s noise will end up being the loudest sound drowning out the CAGW fear mongering.

    • ggoodknight says:

      If I recall correctly, Lindzen is on the record stating that in IPCC discussions in the 90’s (?) it was decided more water vapor would not create more clouds but rather just increase the volume of the atmosphere.

      So they just handwaved away the need to handle the more complicated problems, and decided on a simpler function of temperature for cloud cover. Quite Easily Done.

      And it helped give them the results they just knew were right anyway!

      BTW Frisch sure is busy with something, I thought sure he’d have those papers read and be ready to interpret them for us by now… 🙂

  4. D. King says:

    I think big assumptions are made, not just about cloud reflected light, but that wide spectrum reflected energy is absorbed. It is not.

    See here energy that played tag with the surface and escaped into space.

  5. Dena says:

    The biggest argument against warming is the sun. At it’s creation, it’s output was a 1/3 less than it is today. If there wasn’t a feed back, we should have been an ice planet far longer and we should be warmer today than we ever were in the past. We currently cooler than the warm periods of the past so something must be acting to regulate the planet temperature.

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