Hmmm, entering a cooling phase?

I thought I would briefly comment on a recent paper by McCarthy et al. called Ocean impact on decadal Atlantic climate variability revealed by sea-level observations. The paper seems to be suggesting that the Atlantic MultiDecadal Oscillation (AMO) may be entering a negative phase. Their Press release says

the global climate is on the verge of broad-scale change that could last for a number of decades.

…..Since this new climatic phase could be half a degree cooler.

Their Conversation article says

This is known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), and the transition between its positive and negative phases can be very rapid. For example, Atlantic temperatures declined by 0.1ºC per decade from the 1940s to the 1970s. By comparison, global surface warming is estimated at 0.5ºC per century – a rate twice as slow.

So, they seem to be suggesting that we could be entering a phase of slower warming, or – possibly – even cooling. This is rather odd as the recent Steinman, Mann & Miller paper says

This natural cooling trend appears to reflect a combination of a relatively flat, modestly positive AMO and a sharply negative-trending PMO. Given the pattern of past historical variation, this trend will likely reverse with internal variability instead, adding to anthropogenic warming in the coming decades.

which seems to be suggesting we’re about to enter a period where internal variabililty will amplify anthropogenically driven warming.

So, why does this recent paper suggest the opposite? Well, Sou has already largely explained this. The McCarthy et al. paper simply uses linear detrending to estimate the AMO. However, this is only reasonable if the forced response is linear. It almost certainly is not, and the Steinman, Mann & Miller paper uses actual forcing data to determine the underlying, internally forced variability, which is why their result is different – and probably more physically plausible – than that of McCarthy et al.

However, you can also do some basic sanity checks as to whether or not entering a cooling phase makes physical sense. The NOAA Ocean Heat Content (OHC) data suggests that we’re accruing energy at a rate of around 1023J per decade. About one-third of this goes into the upper 300m of the ocean, which we can reasonably assume is coupled to the atmosphere (not quite right, as it is probably the upper 100m, but this won’t change things much). The upper 300m of the oceans has a heat capacity of around 4 x 1023 J K-1. If this region is accruing energy at the rate of 3.3 x 1022 J/decade, that would suggest it should be warming at just below 0.1oC per decade. Not far off what is observed if we correct for coverage bias (Cowtan & Way 2014).

So, could we enter a global cooling phase? Well, we’re increasing anthropogenic forcings by about 0.35 Wm-2 per decade. If we were to cool, or not warm, the planetary energy imbalance would increase, the energy going into the upper ocean would presumably also increase, and we’d have to warm. That seems logically inconsistent, so a multi-decade cooling phase just seems physically implausible. We can’t really increase the energy going into the system without it also warming.

What about continuing to warm slowly, say at around 0.1oC per decade? Well, we’re increasing anthropogenic forcings at around 0.35Wm-2/decade. The feedback response is about 1.2Wm-2K-1. If we’re accruing energy at 1023J/decade, that implies a planetary energy imbalance of around 0.7Wm-2. If we continue to warm at 0.1oC per decade, then the net non-Planck feedback will 0.12Wm-2/decade, which will amplify the anthropogenic forcings by 0.12Wm-2/decade. The Planck response, on the other hand, is 3.2Wm-2K-1, so would provide a negative feedback of 0.32Wm-2/decade. So, overall, we’d be increasing the planetary energy imbalance by around 0.35 + 0.12 – 0.32 = 0.15Wm-2/decade.

So, again, we’d be increasing the rate at which we’d be accruing energy, which would seem to imply that accelerated warming is more likely than reduced warming, or cooling. This also ignores that we could increase our emissions and increase the rate at which the anthropogenic forcing is rising. Of course, these are all just ballpark figures, but it is still the case that it is very difficult to see how we can enter a phase of slower warming, or cooling, if we continue to maintain, or increase, anthropogenic emissions. Basic energy balance arguments suggest that we have to continue warming and that – at some stage – this will have to accelerate in order to bring the system back towards energy balance.

So, it’s certainly my view that if someone is going to write a paper suggesting that we may be entering a phase of slower warming, or even cooling, they should probably do some basic sanity checks to see if it makes physical sense. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t publish their work, but it would seem worthwhile discussing this basic issue. It may even be possible, but that would seem to require some mechanism for continuing to increase the rate at which we sequester energy in the deeper parts of the ocean. One should – in my opinion – bear in mind that no amount of curve fitting, or complicated statistics, can trump the basic laws of physics.

Update: The University of Southampton has now updated its Press Release to say

Previously transitions to a negative AMO saw a relative cooling of half a degree in the Atlantic, if this occurs again, it may well offer a brief respite from rising temperatures, as well as resulting in fewer hurricanes hitting the United States.

which is clearer. I still think that continued slow warming for the next few decades is unlikely if we continue to increase our emissions, but this is – at least – a less ambiguous description of the possible implications of this work.

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40 Responses to Hmmm, entering a cooling phase?

  1. JCH says:

    The AMOC part is interesting… I suggest we are in the positive phase of the OIO (Oscillation Interest Oscillation). Nobody knows for how long the positive phase will last as people keep coming up with more and more oscillations, and oscillation fans are fanatics – see stadium wave. Children today may never see a negative phase of the OIO.

    Perhaps the power of prayer will bring about the negative phase of the OIO?

    So I ask again, why do people think the AMO effects the GMST?

  2. Thanks for pointing out such papers, ATTP, even when like this paper what they argue is not really relevant to the real point that all should be concerned with – the very long term global warming underneath all this variability, and whether this underlying long term warming is positively accelerating nonstop since the 1800s. (Yes, it is, to this last question. More on this in a moment.)

    On the mentioned Steinman, Mann, and Miller (2015): I think one of their most interesting contributions to the idea of multidecadal *internal* (rather than external) variability is the multidecadal NMO, which is more general than either the AMO or the PMO and thus I think should be the focus rather than either the AMO or PMO. That summary Mann wrote at Real Climate
    contains a nice graph of the NMO for all to see. Here is a link to the graph of the NMO:

    As for what the NMO is, relative to the PMO and NMO: Mann says, “We focused on the Northern Hemisphere and the role played by two climate oscillations known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation or “AMO” (a term I coined back in 2000, as recounted in my book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars) and the so-called Pacific Decadal Oscillation or “PDO” (we a use a slightly different term-Pacific Multidecadal Oscillation or “PMO” to refer to the longer-term features of this apparent oscillation). The oscillation in Northern Hemisphere average temperatures (which we term the Northern Hemisphere Multidecadal Oscillation or “NMO”) is found to result from a combination of the AMO and PMO.

    As for the long term global warming underneath it all: I think that making sense of the slowdown can involve looking at graphs of running means of ever increasing length, to start to try to see what’s going on underneath internal or external natural variability of ever increasing length. (I note the NMO lasts up to roughly 60 years per cycle or quasi-cycle – see that graph Mann gave.)

    Skeptical Science gives a graph of a 30 year running mean at this article
    and here is a link to this graph:

    It seems to broadly follow a path related to the NMO.

    At my comment
    on May 4, 2015 at 7:26 am at “The impact of the “hiatus”?”, I gave a link to a graph of a 60 year running mean, given by a commenter called Olof (I give a link to the comment) at Open Mind. I also linked to two other graphs showing an underlying positive acceleration to global warming. But the 60 year running mean is essentially straight data that shows global warming following a path of positively accelerating warming with essentially no slowdown whatsoever throughout the whole period since the 1800s. I’ll try to give the actual graph of that 60 year running mean again here (hope it embeds):

    Note that all the multidecadal oscillations are gone in this 60 year running mean.

    (Note also that even if this present shorter term slowdown continues for even another 15 years, we should still expect see this positive acceleration continue.)

    Given the lengths of the these multidecadal oscillations of up to roughly 60 years, I believe a 60 year running mean gives a good graphical representation of what those like Tamino say – see the recent post
    at which Tamino shows that global warming (that is, this very long term global warming underneath all this variability) is positively accelerating (Olof gives a link to that graph also under this post by Tamino). Such a graph is good I think especially for the everyday people, the general public, almost all of whom have never had a statistics course and have no idea what all those straight lines mean in all those statistical graphs. They’ve almost all had some algebra, and can relate to a graph that clearly seems to follow a positively accelerating curve that shows no sign whatsoever of a slowdown.

    (Note: If these links I gave don’t work, the graphs of the 30 and 60 year running means should be found by entering “30 year running mean” and “60 year running mean” with the quotation marks at Google images.)

  3. 1. No climate prediction can be very good because:
    “the whole climate system must be regarded as continuously evolving with parts of the system leading and others lagging in time. The highly nonlinear interactions between the subsystems tend to occur on many time and space scales. Therefore, the subsystems of the climate system are not always in equilibrium with each other, and not even in internal equilibrium.” The Physics of Climate

    2. For what it’s worth, the CERES data, indicates mean net radiative energy deficit for the last 14 years:

    Now, that value has a big uncertainty which is illustrated by the variance of anomalies,
    some portion of which are imprecision, inaccuracy, or real and accurate variation:

    Trenberth recently wrote that the data are too brief and noisy to make a pronouncement with and I’d guess that’s true, and the past doesn’t tell you much about what to expect in coming decades,
    but there it is.

  4. BBD says:


    1. No climate prediction can be very good because:

    Should read:

    “1. No short-term climate prediction can be very good because:”

    See eg. Isaac Held.

  5. Robert Way says:

    Yes it’s wrong to use the detrended AMO version but I’m not satisfied that an adequate alternative has been derived to this point. I would think that Ting et al (2009; 2011; in press) provide a reasonably strong case in their derivation (including spatial patterns). Without compensating for spatial variability of forcings post-2005 using the models to separate natural from anthropogenic is very problematic.

    Even the original authors of the detrended AMO (Enfield et al., 2001) suggest using an alternative (Enfield and Cid-Serrano, 2010).

    From what I can gather there are changes going on in the North Atlantic but to me it won’t impact global temperatures much.

  6. TE,
    Are you sure that mean is correct? I don’t see how the mean of that signal can be positive.


    From what I can gather there are changes going on in the North Atlantic but to me it won’t impact global temperatures much.

    In a sense, that is what I was trying to get at. It’s hard to see how – if we continue to increase our emissions – we can’t have accelerated warming sometime soon.

  7. Raff says:

    ATTP, in TE’s graph, it looks like more of the points are above zero than below – counting the dots below zero for each cycle there are only 4 or 5 and I presume it is monthly data. So a +ve mean is possible.

  8. Raff,
    Okay, I see what you mean. I was just comparing the peaks. However, if positive is a net outgoing flux, that would seem inconsistent with OHC measurements for the same time period.

  9. ATTP, pretty sure, though as is my habit, it’s homebrew code.

    the CERES values I scraped from the netcdf files are:

    private static long CERES_START = TIME.getTime( 2000,3,1, 0,0,0 );

    private static int daysSince[] = {
    14, 45, 75, 106, 136, 167, 198, 228, 259, 289, 320, 351, 379, 410,
    440, 471, 501, 532, 563, 593, 624, 654, 685, 716, 744, 775, 805, 836,
    866, 897, 928, 958, 989, 1019, 1050, 1081, 1109, 1140, 1170, 1201, 1231,
    1262, 1293, 1323, 1354, 1384, 1415, 1446, 1475, 1506, 1536, 1567, 1597,
    1628, 1659, 1689, 1720, 1750, 1781, 1812, 1840, 1871, 1901, 1932, 1962,
    1993, 2024, 2054, 2085, 2115, 2146, 2177, 2205, 2236, 2266, 2297, 2327,
    2358, 2389, 2419, 2450, 2480, 2511, 2542, 2570, 2601, 2631, 2662, 2692,
    2723, 2754, 2784, 2815, 2845, 2876, 2907, 2936, 2967, 2997, 3028, 3058,
    3089, 3120, 3150, 3181, 3211, 3242, 3273, 3301, 3332, 3362, 3393, 3423,
    3454, 3485, 3515, 3546, 3576, 3607, 3638, 3666, 3697, 3727, 3758, 3788,
    3819, 3850, 3880, 3911, 3941, 3972, 4003, 4031, 4062, 4092, 4123, 4153,
    4184, 4215, 4245, 4276, 4306, 4337, 4368, 4397, 4428, 4458, 4489, 4519,
    4550, 4581, 4611, 4642, 4672, 4703, 4734, 4762, 4793, 4823, 4854, 4884,
    4915, 4946, 4976, 5007, 5037, 5068, 5099, 5127, 5158, 5188, 5219, 5249,
    5280, 5311, 5341, 5372, 5402, 5433

    private static double SW[] = {
    99.3322, 97.7711, 97.7675, 96.4901, 93.6422, 92.8776,
    95.4279, 101.8754, 106.7497, 108.382, 104.9791, 102.8176, 99.2644,
    98.4811, 97.9417, 96.3278, 93.5504, 92.9703, 94.7646, 101.5743, 106.0002,
    109.1622, 106.6597, 102.6021, 99.3624, 97.9115, 96.8612, 96.7797,
    94.6401, 93.7254, 94.8663, 99.8308, 106.4217, 108.5661, 106.2311,
    101.9555, 98.8284, 97.7196, 98.112, 96.1921, 93.5933, 92.1112, 94.4926,
    99.7442, 105.7854, 107.8527, 106.0169, 101.5433, 100.3689, 96.7871,
    98.7872, 97.1785, 93.4177, 92.5195, 94.4006, 100.349, 105.8952, 107.5974,
    105.9602, 102.5574, 99.2786, 97.5964, 97.2437, 96.7272, 94.3851, 93.1396,
    94.6316, 100.3516, 105.9117, 107.1027, 106.3277, 102.3427, 99.44,
    97.5929, 97.153, 95.7799, 93.8882, 92.8144, 94.3707, 101.0242, 105.3533,
    108.164, 106.312, 101.8643, 99.4446, 96.9412, 97.6929, 96.3799, 93.7977,
    92.9545, 95.1274, 99.9169, 106.3623, 109.1526, 106.9114, 102.6743,
    98.4072, 97.5371, 96.8542, 96.1236, 93.3107, 92.1595, 95.5692, 99.9795,
    106.5165, 107.4271, 106.0249, 102.0701, 99.419, 97.1928, 96.9963,
    95.7098, 94.0712, 92.3605, 95.4964, 100.4441, 106.7251, 108.2905,
    106.7789, 102.8395, 99.6195, 97.4443, 97.9069, 96.9285, 94.7612, 93.2651,
    95.0639, 100.7161, 106.5736, 108.5272, 106.5222, 102.5239, 98.9873,
    97.4954, 97.8508, 97.3223, 93.982, 92.3984, 94.4196, 99.653, 106.3929,
    109.6937, 106.0181, 101.6833, 99.8746, 97.5265, 96.7449, 95.6095,
    94.1712, 92.5987, 94.8351, 99.3622, 105.9896, 108.1244, 106.9631,
    102.4337, 99.3051, 97.8876, 97.621, 97.0042, 94.5439, 92.416, 95.0415,
    100.1987, 106.4133, 108.0561, 106.3912, 102.4525, 98.9568, 97.3101,
    97.3955, 96.766, 94.4971, 91.8634, 94.4748, 99.613, 105.991, 108.7369,

    private static double LW[] = {
    237.6491, 237.7326, 240.3522, 242.5813, 243.1973,
    243.1667, 241.7199, 238.293, 236.3955, 236.2219, 236.3844, 236.4746,
    236.9404, 237.912, 240.4402, 241.7613, 243.5408, 244.1047, 241.6679,
    239.2116, 237.5539, 236.2118, 236.4234, 237.4099, 237.5872, 238.8646,
    241.181, 242.6553, 244.226, 243.8772, 242.5965, 239.4819, 236.9573,
    236.476, 237.4335, 237.754, 238.5079, 238.5816, 240.6232, 242.6187,
    244.0115, 243.5527, 242.1877, 240.1943, 237.5056, 237.1334, 236.4554,
    237.7473, 237.7693, 238.6607, 240.149, 242.8528, 243.2312, 243.5117,
    242.0785, 239.9693, 237.1817, 236.0087, 236.9465, 237.5033, 237.9238,
    238.7513, 239.6486, 242.5181, 244.0092, 243.5236, 242.0274, 239.99,
    237.6153, 236.6555, 236.1812, 236.9783, 237.5522, 237.9098, 239.7639,
    243.0153, 244.0715, 243.797, 242.2309, 239.4003, 237.3361, 236.3536,
    237.7393, 237.5809, 238.3834, 238.8194, 240.6488, 241.9712, 243.9039,
    243.6057, 242.4165, 239.8634, 237.2548, 236.401, 235.6221, 237.0368,
    237.6483, 238.2675, 240.1371, 242.1456, 243.6218, 242.7248, 241.2903,
    239.0362, 237.0091, 236.0411, 236.1427, 236.5294, 236.4752, 238.4428,
    240.1394, 241.4534, 243.4851, 243.801, 241.7374, 239.6304, 237.2503,
    235.9146, 237.5883, 237.4697, 238.306, 238.1596, 240.5913, 242.2802,
    243.364, 243.857, 242.0687, 239.4422, 237.5614, 236.1804, 235.8588,
    237.5181, 237.8477, 238.1672, 239.2901, 241.975, 243.9527, 244.047,
    242.9189, 239.0169, 236.8108, 235.9933, 236.3459, 235.9873, 237.2703,
    237.623, 240.1798, 242.8547, 243.0666, 243.3474, 242.2498, 239.9426,
    236.736, 235.4822, 237.1933, 237.5064, 237.0744, 238.3615, 239.9615,
    242.4511, 243.1365, 243.9333, 242.203, 239.9889, 236.7865, 236.4444,
    236.893, 237.6154, 238.1841, 238.3792, 240.0362, 242.749, 244.1784,
    243.7472, 241.9198, 240.0713, 236.9356, 236.2704, 237.6192

    private static double NET[] = {
    6.9681, 2.0777, -5.8184, -9.7755, -7.8365, -4.3635,
    -0.1901, 2.214, 4.1815, 5.9937, 9.5185, 9.0366, 7.8217, 1.1715, -5.9944,
    -8.7907, -8.0371, -5.5408, 0.4188, 1.467, 3.6403, 5.1578, 7.8878, 8.3982,
    7.2785, 0.8954, -5.6049, -10.0363, -9.9588, -6.1514, -0.6014, 2.8052,
    3.7286, 5.4529, 7.1718, 8.6023, 6.7061, 1.322, -6.3717, -9.5658, -8.7117,
    -4.2393, 0.1031, 1.8586, 3.7024, 5.3541, 8.203, 8.8268, 5.7498, 2.0128,
    -6.7279, -10.8641, -7.85, -4.6206, 0.3897, 1.7987, 4.0094, 6.7528,
    7.6432, 7.9743, 6.6709, 1.0887, -4.7051, -10.0992, -9.5607, -5.2528,
    0.085, 1.695, 3.4568, 6.4841, 8.0792, 8.7248, 6.9041, 1.971, -4.6424,
    -9.612, -9.1534, -5.3158, 0.0713, 1.509, 4.1982, 5.6589, 6.5033, 8.596,
    6.1082, 1.7455, -6.0947, -9.1894, -8.9356, -5.3004, -0.9626, 2.0805,
    3.2581, 4.6309, 8.0597, 8.2994, 7.7107, 1.532, -4.8766, -9.1838, -8.16,
    -3.5416, -0.1351, 2.9601, 3.4486, 6.7509, 8.3734, 9.3777, 7.9244, 1.7419,
    -4.9652, -8.0378, -8.7601, -4.8242, -0.5375, 1.8626, 2.9632, 5.9854,
    6.1956, 7.7611, 6.0086, 1.9237, -6.2246, -10.0108, -9.267, -5.7542,
    -0.4166, 1.7859, 2.8266, 5.5278, 8.232, 8.0762, 7.1718, 2.0082, -4.7367,
    -9.9992, -9.0622, -5.0947, -0.6613, 3.3224, 3.8534, 4.6994, 8.389,
    10.5272, 6.7957, 2.3677, -4.6536, -9.2052, -8.3502, -4.3866, -0.1177,
    2.8662, 4.4328, 6.8186, 6.5204, 8.2048, 7.6264, 1.2939, -5.2111,
    -10.1127, -8.6965, -4.8213, -0.3627, 1.8571, 3.8371, 5.8306, 7.339,
    7.9458, 6.9472, 1.9403, -5.0583, -10.2259, -9.7477, -4.125, 0.4248,
    2.2422, 4.1854, 5.381, 6.9459

    private static double SW_CLIM[] = {
    106.2889, 102.3114, 99.3259, 97.5464, 97.5285, 96.4879, 94.0169, 92.6782, 94.8655, 100.3087, 106.2054, 108.3222

    private static double LW_CLIM[] = {
    236.7219, 237.2224, 237.6745, 238.3088, 240.2095, 242.3921, 243.6665, 243.6398, 242.0877, 239.5686, 237.1258, 236.2526

    private static double NET_CLIM[] = {
    7.6707, 8.5966, 6.9593, 1.6728, -5.4457, -9.6474, -8.8059, -4.8889, -0.1662, 2.155, 3.7148, 5.7654

  10. TE,
    Okay, but is positive net outgoing, or net incoming? A net outgoing flux of 0.6Wm-2 is the same order as that suggested by the OHC, but seems to be of opposite sign.

  11. guthrie says:

    Wait, where does the ideat that global warming is only 0.5 degrees a century come from? At the moment we’re past 0.5 degrees in 35 years, and there’s no indication the rate of increase will decrease.

  12. Guthrie,
    I think it comes from the IPCC AR5 which stated that warming since 1998 was 0.05oC per decade. That, of course, ignores coverage bias, and – as you say – the long term trend is greater than 0.05oC per decade.

  13. BBD says:


    See above.

    Trenberth recently wrote that the data are too brief and noisy to make a pronouncement with and I’d guess that’s true

    You mentioned KT’s point, so fair enough. But mentioning it and then ignoring it isn’t fair enough.

  14. guthrie says:

    Hmm, so why did the IPCC so badly understate the warming rate? Obviously it was nobbled by politicians or something!!!

  15. JCH says:

    I think Guthrie has solved it.

  16. JCH says:

    Whoops, aTTP solved it. 1

  17. KarSteN says:

    The interesting bit in the paper is the fact that NAO leads changes in sea level (OHC derivate) and Atlantic ocean SST by one year. That’s a clear indication that changes in the North Atlantic are atmospherically forced. The authors write:

    “The ocean responds to NAO forcing with changes in ocean circulation: on decadal timescales, the ocean integrates NAO forcing and returns it to the atmosphere as the AMO”

    The question as to what triggers changes in the NAO regime is not discussed at all. That is however the crucial point if one wants to draw conclusions about the contribution of internal variability/external forcing. As far as the paper in its published version is concerned, it only strengthens the case for external forcing impact on Atlantic SSTs, unless you believe that changes in NAO regime are entirely random. I for one consider this to be an extremely unlikely scenario. On that note, the press release is nothing more than a joke.

  18. Jimmi says:

    “Since this new climatic phase could be half a degree cooler”

    It says this in the press release, but it is nowhere in the paper. Where did this come from?

  19. KarSteN,
    Interesting, thanks. I’d missed that.

    A good question.

  20. redbbs says:

    It says this in the press release, but it is nowhere in the paper. Where did this come from?

    On the face of it, the University of Southampton’s press release misrepresents the paper, but it was issued last Thursday and it’s now Sunday and AFAIK there’s been no attempt by either the university or McCarthy to publicly clarify this matter. As there is a growing list of sites that are either cheering the press release or questioning it, the silence from UoS and McCarthy is deafening.

  21. Well, the abstract does say

    The Atlantic overturning circulation is declining and the AMO is moving to a negative phase. This may offer a brief respite from the persistent rise of global temperatures

    So, there is certainly an implied global effect. The paper itself is, however, mainly about the Atlantic, but they seem to have done an extremely poor job (both in the paper and in the media) of making that distinction clear.

  22. redbbs says:

    I’m guessing that a university PR flack did not conjure up -.5C from thin air. It’s more likely that one of the authors arrived at that value and thought deploying it would be helpful in getting the paper noticed. It worked. I think that may also explain the silence.

  23. matt says:

    Sigh. Mandatory sign-off of press releases by the authors would stop a lot of time-wasting nonsense.

  24. BBD says:


    A final line reading “This press release has been reviewed and approved by [at least one named author of the paper in question]”.

    No product press release is let out of the door until it has been reviewed and approved by the relevant product manager. Why should academia hold itself to lower standards that manufacturing?

  25. redbbs says:

    @ BBD
    My feeling is that the product manager was thrilled to bits with the press release…. until Sou and Anders got hold of it.

  26. No product press release is let out of the door until it has been reviewed and approved by the relevant product manager. Why should academia hold itself to lower standards that manufacturing?

    That’s not really how academia works. Researchers are largely independent, irrespective of their job status. Even PhD students can publish single author papers and – if interesting – can have a press release. Ideally, their supervisor gives advice, but if the supervisor isn’t an author on the paper, then formally they’re not involved. The problem will only go away if university’s actively encourage complete honesty over possible public impact. You’re encouraged to make your press release as interesting as possible. Ideally you end up with one that is both interesting and honest, but there isn’t some mechanism that decides if you’ve got the balance right. My preference is to favour honesty over public impact, but there isn’t some kind of procedure that ensures/encourages this. I’d be in favour of there being one, though.

  27. Brian Dodge says:

    “This press release has been cobbled together by a PR flack who not only isn’t a scientist, but who might, like the Republicans in the US Congress, think Lord Monckton is a climatologist, instead of a right wing politician with a Journalism degree. RTFP..”

    The term “Press Release” ALWAYS implies the above.

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  29. Eli Rabett says:

    The University Press office has now backed off the -0.5 C claim and McCarthy did some defense on Twitter.

    Better than having people sign off on their press releases, make them attach each and everyone to their next grant proposal

  30. Eli,
    Yes, I saw the press release had changed a little and added an update to the post.

  31. jsam says:

    BBD – my private industry experience makes me very suspicious of all press releases. More so because I admit to, ahem, having crafted a few myself. Private industry is no shining beacon.

  32. BBD says:


    Better than having people sign off on their press releases, make them attach each and everyone to their next grant proposal

    Now that’s a fine idea.


  33. BBD says:


    I’ve written any number of the damn things too, but the point is that however close to the boundary of truth one sails, one must not cross over the line into misrepresentation or it can come back to haunt you. Tech journalists, for example, are perfectly capable of checking any factual claim against actual performance and will gleefully eviscerate you for telling porkies.

  34. anoilman says:

    jsam, BBD: Early in my career I was asked not to talk about whether a particular product would work on a particular mainframe. Instead I was told to insist that we would support a particular OS that was also on that mainframe. We knew however that we were not putting our product on that mainframe.

    The result is that we intentionally duped a large manufacturer into buying a mainframe that they couldn’t use. Since then, I don’t trust businesses to do anything but promote their own self interests.

    That makes the oddities out there all the more interesting. Like oil companies advising people that we need to stop using fossil fuels. Huh? Where’s the catch?

  35. BBD says:

    Huh? Where’s the catch?

    It does make one wonder. Perhaps they are planning to move en masse into the pre-loved bridge sector.

  36. anoilman says:

    BBD: Personally, privately, (as in not thoroughly researched) I think companies like Shell put a carbon price of $40 a ton out there so they can be the last one standing when carbon taxes hit. Many of their competitors do not have profit margins capable of surviving a carbon tax. It’ll be a buyer’s bonanza for Shell when it happens.

    Or perhaps I’m just jaded. 🙂

  37. Andrew Dodds says:

    AOM –

    The oil companies have lived with fuel duties at much higher levels for decades in Europe. If it’s for C only, then that looks like roughly 4 cents a liter or 18 per gallon.. Or within normal variation. Oil is *hard* to replace in mobile applications.

    So a carbon tax will barely register on oil at that level, and for companies that are in Natural gas but not coal, sales are likely to rise. Gas for Coal is a lazy pseudo-fix for global warming – after all, every new Gas plant can be seen as an investment in 50 years of emissions, if we replace a coal plant that only had 10 years left we are actually in a worse position.

    I sometimes thing that instead of a carbon tax, we should have an ‘atmospheric rent’. Which basically means that if I emit 1 tonne of CO2, I pay $10 a year until it is gone – this $10 rising to keep pace with inflation, minus a term for natural CO2 storage. The money would go to mitigation measures worldwide.

    This rent would be inherited, and could not be discharged through bankruptcy. This rent could only be discharged by some sort of verified CCS scheme. Not carbon credits, you really have to validate that the CO2 is no longer in the atmosphere.

    This looks like a far better economic model than a standard carbon tax, since it would far better account for the costs of using the atmosphere as a dump.

  38. anoilman says:

    Andrew, we have a working Carbon Tax in BC Canada;

    “Since the tax came in, fuel use in B.C. has dropped by 16 per cent; in the rest of Canada, it’s risen by 3 per cent (counting all fuels covered by the tax).”

    Oddly its only on fuel for mobile applications, and its in a province which is large and full of long roads. And dude… it registered.

    I’m reasonably certain that no one is excitedly investing in natural gas over coal. Even if you believe their numbers (read up on Ingraffea), they have a carbon emission of 50% of coal. That’s not much of a tax break. Home consumed natural gas has a carbon foot print > coal.

    Other green techs get a full reduction in emissions, and frankly, they look good these days. Who wouldn’t want tar sands fuel processed with solar energy? Its certainly way harder to complain about.

    Anyways, I think the point of a carbon tax is to give pollution a cost. Presumably other technologies would fill in the gap. For instance, all factors considered for solar (panels, panel fade, permits, installation, inverters) would currently pay off against coal in 20-25 years where I live, and have a 25 year warranty. A penny per kwh would dramatically alter all that. Or I can wait a few more years, and its going to happen anyways.

    A Carbon tax also allows the free market to step into the picture and solve a problem. The Freemarket would go after all the easy low hanging fruit, ASAP. As a tax increased, other changes would happen.

    Lastly, (don’t take this as an insult) its pretty Lomborgian to look to a global carbon scheme. There will be staunch opposition to sending money outside of local jurisdictions. Right wing conservatives have a point. Why export money when you can keep it here and solve the problem here?

    I do like that rent scheme, but I think it might be a tad complicated. The other great fear is a massive increase in government to implement a tax. BC’s tax, is zero government, so efficient.

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