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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute. ALL POSTS

Look beyond preconceptions

Q: If we're so worried about global warming why has it been so cold here in the U.S., in Europe and other parts of the globe? What do weather statistics say has happened during the past 50 years? And how does weather differ from climate (is there a difference)?

What we are experiencing this winter is weather. The weather on any given day or during any given season doesn't tell a lot about our climate. But, weather over time is our climate and if a pattern persists over time, it can be indicative of a change in climate.

To some extent, we are all captives of our preconceptions. Those who assert that man made global warming or climate change is leading us to a climate catastrophe dismiss this year's very cold weather as either a sign of global warming or just an example of natural variability that masks the damage being done by fossil energy consumption. Those who are more skeptical about man being the primary cause of warming over the last half of the 20th century point to the lack of warming since the 1998 El Nino as indicative that the climate system is robust with many self correcting mechanisms.

How do we know which characterization is correct? The first thing we have to do is step away from our preconceptions and look at the evidence carefully and objectively. We know that much of what is used to predict that human activity will lead to a climate catastrophe comes from complex computer models. And, we know that these models do not have a good record in either backcasting past temperatures or forecasting current ones. Indeed the models have over predicted temperatures over the past few decades and did not predict the lack of temperature increases since the start of this decade. We also know that over the past 110 years, temperatures increased for about 45 years, decreased for 30, and then increased from the mid 1970 to the end of the century. None of the models can replicate this climate pattern. Explanations are offered for the reason why but explanations are not in and of themselves proof.

Dr. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama at Huntsville has published work suggesting that a climate phenomenon known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation could be the explanation for the patterns observed over the past century, and more specifically the recent cooling. Others believe that solar activity over the past 30+ years explains much of the warming from the mid 1970s and the cooling that is now taking place. Neither explanation is intended to deny that human activities affect climate.

Last year because of the worst recession in decades, emissions declined. With a recovery expected to be gradual, emissions growth for at least this year will be slight. That reality provides an opportunity to take another look at the evidence, one that is really objective, robust, and transparent. Such a review in my opinion would confirm that the extent of human influence has been over stated and the prescribed corrective actions -- cap and trade-- are therefore excessive. Before this nation proceeds further down a path that would impose hundreds of billions of dollars of additional costs on the economy and our citizens, we should have a higher level of confidence that the actions taken match our understanding of the climate system and human influence on it.

By William O'Keefe  |  January 13, 2010; 3:06 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Climate change, not change in the weather | Next: What happened to global cooling?


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The thing people miss in the debate on climate legislation is even if we have no impact on the climate or the environment, cap and trade is still out best move in terms of the America economy, our health our and national security. If we happen to maybe save the world along the way, so be it. In the mean time we will decrease our dependence on foreign oil, stop sending money to countries who will use it against us, spur innovation in new technologies, become more competitive (China and Indian have take the lead in the green technologies race previously held by the US) while improving our health with cleaner air and water.

I can deal with that.

Posted by: eosullivan | January 19, 2010 12:36 PM
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There's lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics. AGW is a myth. We were in a solar generated warm cycle and now we're in a solar generated cool cycle...nothing more, nothing less. AGW true believers should stop twisting every bit of data into support for their cause celebre' because it just makes them look like the snake oil salesmen they are.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | January 15, 2010 9:03 PM
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According to icecap, NOAA has consistly elinated sampling staions in cold regions and higher altitudes will cooler temperature and have migrated results reported to a limited number of stations in warmer areas. Russia and Canada have disagreed with results from their countries.

Posted by: Independent109 | January 15, 2010 7:43 PM
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The existence and premise of this entire panel discussion is pathetic. WE are not experiencing "cold weather" at all right now. Not if by WE you mean the planet earth, as opposed to your little one-horse town.

PLEASE people, ignore this straw man blog and read the facts (CWG blog post below). It is cold here, Europe and China, but it is WARMER THAN NORMAL everywhere else on this globe. You live on a planet, remember? What a pathetic performance here.

Posted by: B2O2 | January 15, 2010 7:42 PM
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People do love to argue about symantics. Global warming, climate change, whatever you want to call it. The history recorded in ice layers has shown us that the climate does change on a 110,000 year cycle give or take a few hundred centuries. Our scientists have measured levels of gasses trapped in our recent ice layers and it has showed that since the industrial revolution the levels of these gasses and temperatures have increased and been maintained to an artificial level that has not been seen before. All of you who are blinded because your fortunes have been made on the backs of us working folk, comendeering the worlds resources and promoting the consumption of such natural treasures, should just retire to your wealth and shut up. Be happy the masses in our time are passive. You have profited beyond your right and do not have a unbiased word to say so just go away.
The rest of us have to live in modest means and understand that the worlds climate will change. Like every 110,000 years the temperature will raise to a peak then start to get colder. Will it do a hollywood style blast freeze which blows sky scrapers to bits and causes massive floods to crush New York, London, Miami and every other place around the world? Probably not.
My guess is that it is going to get cold again then in the Summer, it will get hot. The hotter or colder will fluctuate more or less and the glaciers will probably refreeze. Not all of them because patterns of rain will change. Our earth, the solar system, the universe will always change and we will be here as long as we can. We will have another ice age. The whole world won't freeze until the oceans stop circulating and the winds stop blowing. Then we will sleep.
In the mean time, lets live. I'm going sailing.

Posted by: busstopbud | January 15, 2010 4:40 PM
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What we are experiencing now has never happened before and it is happening at an unprescidently faster rate than ever before.

Most people only know about the weather or climate they are living within. But we have the technology now where we can see the weather and climate change all over the globe. Before you get to happy and secure about the weather, look at what is happening around the globe. This is shocking! Glaciers and polar ice melting at exceedingly exponential rate. Vast forests wilderness areas drying up and burning away. These forests took hundreds to even thousands of years to become established (also the glaciers and polar caps).

The overall climate may be cooler and getting colder, but the precipitation is not increasing with it--which should be expected. The ice no longer sticks because of too much air pollution. The air pollution is cleared by rains that dilute it into the ocean or the soil. In any case, the Earth has probably reached its ability to counter (absorb) air pollution.

Posted by: maphound | January 15, 2010 3:59 PM
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It is not worth trying to explain things to people too dumb to understand and too stubborn to listen. "Hey, back a million years ago it was warmer and their weren't no mens around then... you ever think o that?" Ye gods.

Posted by: steveboyington | January 15, 2010 1:26 PM
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Thats funny. Weather doesn't count when it doesn't support the hyped false hypothesis of Global Warming now morphed into "climate change".

I thought that the weather showed a warming trend. That is from the extremely limited amount of data over only about 100 years.

Now that these so called "scientists" don't have data that supports a warming trend, the ignorant excuses start to flow.

There is no Global Warming. CO2 from people breathing, Animal Flatulence, and SUV's is not doing anything to change the Weather or the Climate.

Weather, and Climates are intertwinned despite what these lame brained fools are saying.

The Weather and Climates around the earth change just like the seasons. CO2 doesn't cause the earth to warm and cool, the earths relationship to the Sun does.

Most of these so called scientists / global warming apologists, are still waisting money stolen from the taxpayers and citizens from around the world.

Just think what would be accomplished if they would be looking into something worthwhile like cancer research.

CAP AND TAX and Global Warming is solely a ploy to control and tax the masses. Global Warming is a complete myth.

Posted by: ignoranceisbliss | January 15, 2010 12:49 PM
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