Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 97% v the 3% – Just How Much Global Warming Are Humans Causing?

A pair of climate scientists recently had a dispute regarding how much global warming humans are responsible for. Gavin Schmidt from Nasa represented the consensus of 96–97% of climate experts in arguing that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since 1950, while Judith Curry from Georgia Tech represented the opinions of 2–4% of climate experts that we could be responsible for less than half of that warming.

Curry is to be the featured speaker on this subject at a National Press Club event tomorrow hosted by the Marshall Institute; a right-wing thinktank that has spread misinformation about the dangers of smoking, ozone depletion, acid rain, DDT, and now climate change. She may also discuss the subject at an event next week hosted by the fossil fuel-funded right-wing think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).

The exchange between Schmidt and Curry can be read on RealClimate – a blog run by climate scientists. The discrepancy in both the quantity and quality of the supporting evidence used by each scientist was one of the most telling aspects of their debate.

For his part, Schmidt referenced the most recent IPCC report. The IPCC summarises the latest and greatest climate science research, so there is no better single source. The figure below from the IPCC report illustrates why 96–97% of climate science experts and peer-reviewed research agree that humans are the main cause of global warming.

IPCC AR5 figure 10.5: Likely ranges (whiskers) and their mid-points (bars) for attributable warming trends over the 1951–2010 period due to greenhouse gases, other anthropogenic forcings (OA), natural forcings (NAT), combined anthropogenic forcings (ANT) and internal variability. The HadCRUT4 observations are shown in black. Click to Enlarge.
The black bar indicates the amount of global surface warming observed from 1951 to 2010. The green bar shows the amount of warming caused by human greenhouse gas emissions during that time. The yellow is the influence from other human effects (mainly cooling from human sulfate aerosol emissions, which scatter sunlight), and the orange is the combined human effect. Below those are the contributions from external natural factors (mainly the sun and volcanoes) and from natural internal variability (mainly ocean cycles), while the whiskers show the uncertainty range for each.

Notice that the green and orange bars are both bigger than the black bar.  This shows that greenhouse gases have caused more warming than has been observed over the past six decades, but some of that was offset by cooling from human aerosol pollution.  And the best estimate from the body of peer-reviewed climate science research is that humans are responsible for more than 100% of the global surface warming since 1950, with natural factors probably offsetting a little bit of that with a slight cooling influence.

The 97% v the 3% – Just How Much Global Warming Are Humans Causing?

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