The Growing list of Questions.
Ok, the planet warming 1.5°C, may not sound as bad as the Titanic hitting the iceberg, but there is a lot of noise about how avoiding +1.5°C is critical, despite action that seems as effective as shuffling deck chairs.
I set out to analyse what is needed to avoid warming to +1.5°C, and if it is as inevitable as it now seems, why are not more people yelling ‘emergency!’.
I had originally 3 three questions. It grew to 4, and then 5, as I discovered as answers raised more questions. I updated the title to reveal answer and save clicks, but there are important caveats on the answers that make reading still worthwhile.
Q1: How Much Warming So Far?
What is the starting point for the warming measurement?
When I was making notes on COP26, and I had found a chart on CNN, it seemed to suggest we are already at 1.3°C. Ok, that did fit with COP26 being billed as the last chance to avoid 1.5. But then I checked for collaborating data. Is it confirmed that we have indeed reached 1.3°C? Instead I found data that made it look questionable, at least at first. Data from a variety of sources as quoted on Wikipedia have a maximum temperate of just under 1.0°C! But on further inspection, all this data, and the data on CNN, agree on everything except where to declare the zero level, or starting point.
The CNN data has ‘zero’ starting point as the temperature back in the mid 1800s, and Nasa and others on the graph shown on Wikipedia have the zero date as around 1950.
The question then becomes, when we say a 1 degree, or 1.5°C, or 2 degree rise in temperature, from what point in time is this rise in temperature rising from? That lead to the next search, which was again not easy: “rise from when?”. One of the first texts I found discussed “keeping temperature rises to within 2 degrees this century”. This even left open the possibility that the targets are relative to the year 2000, but it turns out that is not true. Finally I found clarity: UN targets are temperatures relative to ‘pre-industrial levels’.
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.UN Web Site: Paris Agreement.
Ok, now it is clear the UN means from ‘pre-industrial levels’, but why do so many graphs seem to start from the 1950s? It turns out, that the global temperature record is divided into periods.
- 1950 onwards, when satellite and balloon data is available
- 1850 to 1950 when all data is thermometer based.
Most climate data has the zero point for climate data as the 1950s, because it was in the 1950s they started collecting the data. Data from prior to 1950s is all extracted from a variety of records, and was collated retrospectively in the 1950s. There means there are two types of data, the data collected from the 1950s going forward, and the data calculated from old records and ice cores and other retrospective measures from the before the 1950s. For this reason, historically, all climate charts have the reference or zero point as during the 1950s.
Why most charts show +1.0°C, when we are at +1.25?
When modern reading started in the 1950s, and they were not started as a means to track climate change since ‘pre-industrial levels’. The charts were designed to track the climate looking forward, and compare with whatever data from the past was available. The idea that temperatures might have changed at the start of the industrial period, was not recognised as significant back then.
When it was decided at the UN, that we need to limit temperature rises relative to temperature from ‘pre-industrial’ and therefore, prior to emissions, it made perfect sense as a concept. However, NASA, Berkley etc were not about to go back and adjust all the records to reset the zero point, and of course if they did, it would result in confusion, if not accusations of tampering with the data.
United Nations ‘pre-industrial levels’ vs 1950: Lost In Translation?
So now we have two ‘languages’ of temperature data:
- United Nations, relative to pre-industrial levels (0.22°C different from historical Official Records).
- Official Temperature records, relative to the 1950s, not relative to ‘pre-industrial’.
This means that for any graph of official temperature records, it is necessary to ‘translate’ the data before using the data for comparison with UN targets. Sadly, there is no agreed exact translation, as there is no agreement on what number to use as the difference between ‘pre-industrial’ and ‘the 1950s’. Agreement is close, and so close that picking the most conservative value and using it would make sense, but I am not aware of that happening.
Despite most official records having agreement on the 1950s reference, there is no agreement on exactly what the zero point of ‘pre industrial levels’ will be. In reality, the UN should declare a value, and use this value in statements, but there would be objections to clearer climate statements from some member states.
To calculate the adjustment or ‘translation’ required, it is necessary to calculate the temperature change from whatever date is to be used for ‘pre industrial levels’ to 1950. From 1850 to 1950, the value is typically around 1.5°C, but not all records go back to 1850. ) to all values shown since 1950, in order to calculate the temperature change from “pre-industrial levels”.
Different temperature data results in different values, but when taking the average 1850 to 1900 as a starting value, then all data gives a ‘translation’ value between 1.23°C and 1.30°C of temperature rise to 1950s. The most conservative temperature rise number from those that do have data is from NASA, and simply using the figure from their data would at least give an actual clear number for all current measurements.
NASA, has records only back to 1880. If the average temperature from prior to 1900 was used as ‘pre-industrial levels’, then as the average of all years from 1880 to 1899 on NASA data is -0.219°C, the value 0.219°C (rounded to 0.22°C)would needed to be added to any official record to show ‘difference from pre-industrial levels’ as opposed to ‘difference from the 1950s’.
With NASA data, the year 2020 has a reading of +1.02°C. Applying the conversion to get the difference from ‘pre-industrial levels’ this gives:
- +1.24 as the temperature rise as of 2020.
- +1.2866°C as the projected end 2021 number, but year on year changes are hard to predicts so to allow for fluctuations, say +1.25°C
The 0.0476°C per year comes from the difference between average temperatures from 2011 to 2015, and average temperatures between 2016 and 2020, and dividing by 5 to have an average difference. We are only 10/12ths through 2021, but more significantly not every year will increase at the typical rate, so I used 0.01 to get 1.25, at it seems this should allow for uncertainty.
The +1.25°C answer and does it mean anything?
When I first realised that the “+1.3°C” on the CNN graph was at least correct when the data is shown to only 1 decimal place, I was surprised. Why is not more being made of this? The following points occurred to in sequence, with each replacing the previous one as my most logical explanation, but the all 3 probably play some role.
- When you look at climate charts, they are mostly in “since 1950s” format, disguising the reality.
- With Covid-19 and other issues, everyone was too distracted to pay enough attention to the recent rise.
- We still don’t know what future years will be, and this current level could be a peak.
The raw data chart above shows just how much temperatures jump from year to year. Yes, we have just had 5 of the 6 hottest years ever, but 1940 to 1943 was the 4 hottest years ever at the time, and although 1940-1943 was a bump on an long term upward trend, it was almost 40 years later before the temperatures at that time were consistently exceeded.
The big problem is that never know until later if this current run of high temperatures will be followed by a trough before it temperatures rise again, or if it is still on the way up. Just like trying to pick the peak of the stock market, which also over the longer term seems to keep rising.
Making too much of an issue of the current temperature risks condemnation if there a then a few years where temps are lower.
So while it is not just me saying it, it is also CNN for example, whether people make a big deal about the current reading is somewhat determined by what they already believe. So you can read this as:
- OMG, we are all going to die because we can be certain the worst trends will continue.
- It is rubbish, the climate goes in cycles and temperature will go down again. Just the whole industrial age is one big cycle really.
- While we can’t be certain this run of record temperature is not just another peak, nor we can be certain that is not going to just keep rising and maybe we should act on the risk.
So +1.25°C is the answer to “where are we now”, but the UN does not want to focus too heavily in case it changes. But perhaps we need focus.
Q2. When would we reach this +1.5°C if it happens?
How Fast Has Temperature Been Rising?
Having established where we are now, and given the data from NASA is available for anyone to download, it is possible for anyone to use the data to project what will happen in the future on current trends.
Using 5yr average temperatures smoothens the data, and thus makes trends clearer.
However, unlike the consistent trends of the temperatures, the rate of change of temperature is far more complex. What can actually be seen from the data is series of variable duration short term trends.
While the green line does reflect a very long term trend of a growth in the rate of temperature increase since measurements became more accurate in the 1950s, the even longer term trend would be a flatter line, and by starting in the 1980s, the line would be even flatter again. Overall, the rate increases for a number of years, and then decreases for a number of years, and seem as hard to predict as the stock market, when working with no other information than historical data. The best we can be sure of, is rate of increase changes slowly from year to year rather than being completely random. That is the change in year X+1, will be somewhat similar to the change in year X, but there is no clear pattern of increasing or decreasing for fixed or predictable lengths of time. Historically, the rate increase is also rising, but by a rate much less significant than year to year fluctuations.
The best we can say is that on average the temperate from the 5 year average for the year listed below to the 5 year average for 2020 have been at following rates:
- 2015 0.0476
- 2010 0.0312
- 2000 0.0261
- 1980 0.015
- 1900 0.009
On this trend, there is an accelerating overall increase, but this does no allow accurate predictions year to year.
Will Anything Really Disrupt The Rate Of Increase?
Of course there are limitations to ‘current trends’:
- An unexpected tipping point could alter the trend for future years.
- Increase tend to happen in cycles where rate of increase varies throughout the cycle.
- New measures from COP26 and beyond could have significantly more impact than all of COP1 through COP25 have combined.
Based on that, if anything, there has been an acceleration of the rate of increase despite all previous agreements, I am at this time going to assume that new measures will have very little immediate impact on slowing the rate of temperature increase.
I have the data from NASA loaded into a spreadsheet, as above, and will looking into applying regression, but at this time I am doing the simple “assume the same change from 2021 to 2030 will be the same as it was from 2011 to 2020” rule, and on that basis suggest a rise of 0.041°C would occur again in the next decade, as that is what occurred in the previous decade. The NASA data for ‘pre-industrial levels’ is higher temperature than most, as NASA excludes only has data from the warmer 1880 timeframe, and excludes the years 1850-1880. The NASA average from 1880-1899 inclusive is -0.22. This gives a projected temperature for 2030 of:
2030 increase over industrial levels = 0.22 + 1.02 + 0.41 = +1.65°C
This is ignoring the trend for an acceleration of the temperature increase, which would result in reaching +1.5°C. As temperatures were rising faster in the last 5 years, it seems very likely that current rate would continue, making this estimate very conservative.
On this data, +1.5°C would be reached mid 2026.
Q3. Why Aren’t We Being Told +1.5 Is Now 2026, Not 2050?
Didn’t Anyone See +1.25°C is here and +1.5°C by 2026?
It looks bad. In Paris in 2015, there had been 1.0°C of warming in the 115 years since prior to 1900. On trend, it should take another 50 years to climb half as much again. There had already been measures to reduce emissions, and it looked like there was time to stop temperatures reaching +1.5°C. But withing months, new data suggested maybe there was no so much time. Temperatures jump around, maybe the new data is an aberration? All the way to Glasgow in 2021, the trend continued, with the rise expected in over 25 years seeming to have happened in 6. Of course, it could be a false alarm and temperatures will again fall, as they did back in the 1940s. If the alarm is sounded too soon, no one would ever listed again.
How Fast Is Temperature Rising Now?
There are many possible answers. Is the answer, the rate of the last 5 years or is that too uncertain? Is the overall rate for the last 10 more accurate? Or 20? From year to year there are significant fluctuations, so to be safe, it is better to look over longer periods. The 5 year average temperate has not fallen any year since 2011, but it also fell in 2008 not just in 2011, so it could happen again. Even with 5 year averages, it is hard to be certain, but if the rate is changing, we may be late in detecting the change.
Didn’t Anyone See +1.25 coming?
The short answer is: “no”. There is no scientific modelling that specifically accurately predicts the actual temperature for a given year, and no one climate scientist can say, this way my exact prediction. Plenty can say, “this is within the range I predicted!”. It turns out that simply assuming year on year changes will remain at the same level is normally wrong, but has been close to correct since 2014.
So if anyone did accurately predict +1.25°C, they were ‘lucky’. Or more significantly, pessimistic, as this result at the worst end of expectations, so anyone expecting the worst, could have been close.
Plus, it is not like the temperate is not guaranteed to fall for a short time. The long term is for increase, but from year to year, anything could happen, so making a big thing of +1.5°C would risk being undermined if temperatures then fell.
What Is The Certainty on 2026?
The short answer is “there is no certainty”. While 2026 may be the most likely year to reach 2026, the UN would be foolish to announce ” +1.5 in in 2026″, since while it may be the best estimate there is, the possibility also exists that in 2030, temperatures will still be below +1.5°C.
Why Isn’t UN Telling Us, But Needs Greta To It Like It Is?
In fact, this uncertainty is what creates the greatest danger. The uncertainly prevents official channels “telling it like it is”, just in case it turns out to be not quite as bad a predicted. That is why people like of Greta Thunberg become so useful in getting the message out. They can tell it like it is, without the need to hesitate “I best give no predictions, just in case a prediction doesn’t happen exactly as I said”.
Q4. How Bad Will +1.5°C Be?
From 1980-2000 (from +0.3°C) to 2000-2020 (from +0.6°C), it became measurably worse.
Several articles have already noted that extreme weather events have increased significantly over the past 20 years, compared with the previous 20 years. The past 20 years, represents from +0.6°C, through to +1.20°C, and provides comparison data with 1980-2000 when temperatures were between +0.3°C and +0.6°C. There have been more disasters during the last 20 years, but during most of this time, many, many people were still debating if anything was happening at all. Sure, there is lots of data, but it does not feel like Armageddon, and instead is just about an increase in frequency of disasters that were already happening.
This is partially because that type of data, comparing frequency of events, works only when events are comparable. In summary this data is “climate change is bad”, but not “how does climate change get worse when temperatures rise”, beyond just, “we get even more of the same”. What I am trying to find is, has new types of events started to happen within those 20 years, and specifically, has anything been more noticeable since +1.0°C.
Have Climate Events Been Worse since +1.0°C? (2015, Paris)
What has happened lately, is there have been some events that seem unlikely to have happened at all without climate change.
Some of the events that have felt most like armageddon have happened since 2020:
- The extreme fires in Australia at the beginning of 2020.
- The Floods in Germany: 2021.
- The fires in Greece in 2021.
These all seemed to be candidates of weather events more extreme than possible without climate change.
- Extreme weather events of 2021.
What Will Climate Change Be Between Now and +1.5°C?
I have more to add to more this so please return in around 2 days, but look at the difference between 2011 and 2020, and add the same difference again.
And At +1.5?
Yet no climate event so far seems to actually justify the doomsday clock at 1 minute to midnight, or perhaps more accurately, at 100 seconds to midnight, which since metric time has not yet been adopted, is over 1 minute, but less than 2.
A growing consensus also believe that climate change poses a great future threat to the world, and all of mankind that depends on it to survive.Defconlevel.com
I have this thought of an ‘existential threat’ being associated with the doomsday day clock, but exactly what may cease to exist is not necessarily clear, and it need not be the entirety of humanity. Of course, our society is quite fragile, and I am not among those capable of feeding ourselves without society, or perhaps even surviving without the internet. A question becomes, just how much do things need to be disrupted before “things fall apart”.
Why Is No One Taking More Serious Action?
COP 26 Was Billed As Last Chance To Stop 1.5°C, but did anyone act like they believed it?
I discussed this in my report on COP26, but Prince Charles, David Attenborough, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and conference president Alok Sharma all spoke of how we are just clinging to any hope of stopping +1.5, yet nothing at the conference seemed to recognise the need for action prior to 2030.
The only two possible explanations are:
- No one realises how close 1.5°C is.
- No one believes 1.5°C matters as much as big oil and ‘the economy’.
I have not seen anyone at COP26 declaring how much temperatures have risen so far. No one. Is it really surprising that no one seems to know how much temperatures have risen?
In the end, there is an entire industry of influencing how people think, but this industry has two motivations:
- Polarization, as this drives up screen time.
- Revenue from gatekeeping the sales of products.
For the influence industry, climate change is a convenient topic to produce polarization and outrage, both of which increase screen time. Solutions would be bad for business.
Was There Anything At COP26 Beyond “More Of The Same”?
I have a list of agreements from COP26, but it is still to be updated as things close. There are more commitments, but nothing that really says, “got it, this is now an emergency”.
Have People Missed That, Or Don’t Believe That, We Are Now Unbelievably So Close to +1.5°C?
I suspect this is part of the problem. That we have already passed +1.2°C already may have been on graphs on CNN, but even they do not exactly hammer home that message.
Since COP21, Paris in 2015, there has been no COP meeting really focused on climate. Trump became president in 2016 and that did not help, COP25 was a disaster originally to be hosted by Brazil until Jair Bolsonaro withdrew from hosting with little time left, and then Chile failed as a stand in host, and COP26 was already delayed a year.
Back in 2015, the previous hottest year was 2014 at + 0.75°C above 1950, which translates to +0.97°C above pre-industrial levels.
Just perhaps some people were only looking at the ‘untranslated’ number, which is just halve way to +1.5°C, but even those looking at the translated number, would have seen the planet as 2/3 of the way to +1.5°C, over the entire time since pre-industrial times, which is a period of over 120 years. At that time it was reasonable to assume there another 60 years, or even if the rate of increase was now double the average since 1900, there would be at least 30 more years.
Suddenly in 2021, that further +0.5°C there was to work with in Paris, has halved!!
Half disappeared in just 6 years? Which does mean, logically once you digest that information, that the other half could dissappear in just another 6 years.
It is still possible that this must be an aberration. But it is not just 1 hot year, 2015 itself turned out be already at +1.12 and 4 of the next 5 years were all even hotter. If this does turn out to be an aberration, it is an aberration that has run for over 5 years now.
What was expected to happen in 15 years, happened in just 6, and it was 6 years where other world events created significant distraction from focusing on climate change. Yes, there were unprecedented climate related events of fires and floods. But coming to Glasgow, most heads of government at COP26, were still understandably very focused on Covid-19.
But it is possible that in the long term, one of the big costs of the pandemic with be the distraction from climate at what may turn out to be a very critical time.
2030, 2050, 2070? Huh?
Given we should expect +1.5°C would be reached in mid 2026, so even targets for 2030 would be expected to be too late to prevent +1.5°C.
Yet countries added targets for 2050 just prior to COP26, and India even added a target for 2070. Every one of these targets only makes sense if there is a wait and see attitude to +1.5°C. Proof that +1.5°C will be reached, and that is serious is required before the real action will take place. Steps now are about readiness to act if things get worse.
A lot of what has happened so far, has only happened because it was convenient.
Sure, Norway has lots of electric cars, but it does keep exporting oil, and most countries will only really move to electric cars on mass once they become less expensive than fossil fuels cars.
As for solar and wind, countries that have no oil are moving because solar and wind are less expensive. It is not like big sacrifices in the name of the environment are required.
Are Opponents To Action Successfully Achieving FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt)?
Haven’t We Learnt From the Past?
Tobacco: Stopping Tobacco Took Decades Due To Resistance Of Big Tobacco.
By the end of the 16th century, tobacco plant and use of tobacco were both introduced to virtually every single country in Europe.
Cigarettes were recognised as the cause of the epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s, with the confluence of studies from epidemiology, animal experiments, cellular pathology and chemical analytics. Cigarette manufacturers disputed this evidence, as part of an orchestrated conspiracy to salvage cigarette sales. Propagandising the public proved successful, judging from secret tobacco industry measurements of the impact of denialist propaganda. As late as 1960 only one-third of all US doctors believed that the case against cigarettes had been established.The history of the discovery of the cigarette-lung cancer link
CFCs: Fast And Decisive and Successful Action, as there was no ‘big CFCs’ to overcome.
It is generally agreed that humans were altering the fragile Ozone layer with CFCs, and humans took action, stopped using CFCs, and the ozone layer has been largely restored as a result.
In the 1920s we began the use of CFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners, and the problem for the ozone layer was only clearly identified in 1972 , and by the 1989, a global treaty agreed to prohibit their use in the first recognition that humanity had the power to damage the entire planet in a short period of time.
Big Oil Is Still Active, And Was At Glasgow.
Glasgow, Scotland (CNN)More than 100 fossil fuel companies are understood to have sent 500 lobbyists to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, more than any single country at the summit, according to the environmental campaign group Global Witness. The group analyzed the UN’s provisional list of named corporate attendees and found at least 503 people linked with coal, oil and gas companies were at the conference. Fossil fuel use is the biggest driver of human-made climate change. The list included people either directly affiliated with fossil fuel companies, including Shell, Gazprom and BP, as well as those attending as members of delegations and groups that act on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.
The analysis found that the fossil fuel lobby had around two dozen more than the largest country delegation.Fossil fuel companies have over 500 people at COP26, more than any single country, report says
Overall as a planet, all the COP conference agreements so far have managed to limit an increase in the rate of greenhouse gas production, but we have in total, not really managed to reduce emissions. Partly this is due to a propaganda war, which feels like the battle with ‘big tobacco’ all over again. There is still significant misdirection, with scams around hydrogen and carbon capture and storage playing a major role.
Is Big ‘Economic Activity Playing A Role?
The Battle For Climate Change Faces a new opposition: ‘Big Economic Activity’.
Everything about climate action goes against maximizing economic activity. In a quite short time frame, EVs not only result in job losses in production, but also reduce economic activity in maintenance and, worst of all, can even facilitate people using solar at home and going somewhat ‘off grid’. Even planned obsolescence is under threat as EVs last longer.
Solar and wind can reduce electricity prices. While that sounds good for individuals, for the economy, this can even lead to deflation.
Governments that link their votes to the performance of economic indicators have good reason to fear measures to address climate change.
Q5. Beyond +1.5°C How much warming can we take?
Whatever your perspective, there are points to provide confirmation of existing bias.
- It will be nothing:
- It will be a disaster!
- While the Earth has been warmer, it never increased temperature this fast in the past and life needs time to adjust.
- With almost 8 billion people on the planet to house and feed, as a loss of even a small amount of land causes huge disruption and suffering.
- CO2 levels in the past were higher because the Sun was dimmer, the sun may not noticeably increase in radiation in 100 or 200 years, but it has changed a lot since CO2 levels were last this high. This is new territory!
I will add more to this section.
- 1. How much warming has there been so far? 1.23° to 2020, estimate 1.25 to 1.28°C by end 2021.
- What is the starting point for the warming measurement? It should ‘pre industrial levels’, or -0.22°C
- Why do most charts show +1.0°C, when we are at +1.25? Because they are relative to 1950s.
- UN ‘pre-industrial levels’ vs 1950? Add 0.22°C to convert.
- 2. When will we reach +1.5°C if it happens? 2026, but that is best guess, and there is uncertainty.
- 3. How bad is +1.5? Still to be fully answered: Stay Tuned.
- What Climate Change Between Now and +1.5°C? Still to be fully answered: Stay Tuned
- Why Is No One Taking It Seriously? Those with influence don’t want to.
- Wasn’t COP 26 Was Billed As Last Chance To Stop 1.5°C? No one took that seriously.
- Have People Missed That, Or Don’t Believe That, We Are Now Unbelievably So Close to +1.5°C? Yes
- 2030, 2050, 2070? Huh? There is a perception there is loads of time yet.
- Are Opponents To Successfully Achieving FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt)? Yes
- Have We Learned From Past History Of Responses & Opponents? Only The Opponents Have Learnt.
- Is Big Oil Playing A Role? Yes
- Is Big ‘Economic Activity Playing A Role? Yes
- 4. Beyond 1.5°C, How much warming can we take? This is a big topic, so more to be added.
Conclusion, and the journey.
I started out wondering just where the temperature is up to. Then, when I did the calculations and found CNN was basically correct and we are already half way from the 1.0 we were at in Paris to the 1.5 we fear, I wondered: “Why is no one making a bigger noise about this?”.
My first theory was this was because the data was sometimes misunderstood, do to the confusing way it is presented.
Then I thought again and realised, this may confuse the public, but not enough to slow action.
So my next thought was that since we have all been so distracted by Covid-19, it has not got the attention it would have received in normal times.
Then I realised perhaps the biggest point of all. There is so much influence industry dollars ready to draw attention to any prediction that fails to materialise, that the UN cannot draw attention to any number that could change. Official response must be very, very guarded. If a big noise is made about +1.25°C, and temperatures fall by the smallest amount, credibility will be set back for years.
You can’t make a big deal about the truth. Or at least, the UN and other agencies can’t, and this is the value of Greta Thunberg and others, as people like her can tell it like it is.
The fossil fuel industry and those who bow to the false economic activity gods are not going to buy an insurance policy while there is any chance of the house not burning down. I wish I could buy insurance on this basis.
- May 10 2022: Now I am not alone.
Add more, to ‘how much more’, or add and link new sub topic.