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New Evidence from Climate Change Skeptic Robert Muller Confirms Global Warming

By Wilson Huhn Published: October 22, 2011

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study led by (former) global warming skeptic Robert Muller has been completed and posted online.  The study confirms prior findings that the Earth is rapidly warming.  As a consequence those who oppose government regulation of greenhouse gases necessarily contend that these emissions are not the cause of global warming. 

Robert Muller, perhaps the leading scientist who had expressed doubts about global warming, has completed a comprehensive study with the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group that unequivocally demonstrates the fact that the Earth is warming at an alarming rate - more than nine-tenths of a degree Celsius (one and half degree Fahrenheit) since 1950.   In this study Muller does not reach any conclusions about the cause of global warming, but the evidence tends to rule out changes in ocean currents as being the principal cause.

Below are links to pertinent the study itself, Muller's statements about global warming, news stories about the study, and the reaction of one group still resisting its findings:

A.  The Study

There are four parts to the BEST study.  The first three consider factors that global climate skeptics had cited as possible sources of error, the third considers whether global warming correlates with changes in ocean currents, while the fourth concludes that the Earth has warmed about one and a half degrees Fahrenheit since 1950.  A fifth report from BEST identifies the sources of financial support for the study, revealing that it was funded by both liberal and conservative foundations.

1.  Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, Earth Atmospheric Land Surface Temperature and Station Quality in the United States

This portion of the study refutes the notion that global warming was erroneously detected by poor quality of testing stations.  The researchers found that even though testing stations vary widely in what they say the temperature is, they are accurately reporting changes in temperature .  In other words, most stations are reporting an increase in temperature around the earth, and there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of these findings.  The scientists conclude:

Networks of stations can reliably detect temperature trends even when individual stations have large absolute uncertainties.

2.  Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, Influence of Urban Heating on the Global Temperature Land Average Using Rural Sites Identified from MODIS Classifications

In this portion of the study the researchers rebut the idea that global warming is caused by increases in heat from urban centers.  The scientists found that both urban and rural testing centers are recording the same relative increases in temperature.  They state:

Urban warming does not unduly bias estimates of recent global temperature change.

3.  Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, Decadal Variations in the Global Atmospheric Land Temperatures 

In this portion of the study researchers attempt to estimate the effect of changes in ocean currents on world temperature.  The study does not draw any definitive conclusions about whether global warming is caused by greenhouse gases or by naturally-occuring phenomena, but it concludes that global warming appears to be separate from changes in ocean currents.  The study states:

Our analysis suggests a strong intraannual and decadal variations observed in the average land surface temperature represent a true climate phenomenon, not only during the years when fluctuations on the scale of 2-15 years had been previously identified with El Nino effects.

4.  Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, Berkeley Earth Temperature Averaging Process

The BEST study finds that between 1950 and 2010 the average world temperature increased 0.911 degree Celcius.  Not only does this agree with the findings of other major scientific groups, but the BEST result reduces the margin of error to 0.042 degrees Celsius.  They state:

We find that the global land mean temperature has increased by 0.911 ± 0.042 C since the 1950s (95% confidence for statistical and spatial uncertainties). This change is consistent with global land-surface warming results previously reported, but with reduced uncertainty. 

5.  Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, Financial Support

The major donors to the BEST study were:

The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund ($20,000)

William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation ($100,000)

Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (created by Bill Gates) ($100,000)

Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation ($150,000)

The Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation ($50,000)

B.  Muller's Statements

1.  Richard Muller, Global Warming Bombshell: A prime piece of evidence linking human activity to climate change turns out to be an artifact of poor mathematics, Technology Review (October 15, 2004)

In 2004 Richard Muller challenged the strength of the evidence for global warming.  At that time he called for further study of the issue, and pleaded for people to wait until all the science was in before coming to a conclusion:

Progress in science is sometimes made by great discoveries. But science also advances when we learn that something we believed to be true isn't. When solving a jigsaw puzzle, the solution can sometimes be stymied by the fact that a wrong piece has been wedged in a key place.

In the scientific and political debate over global warming, the latest wrong piece may be the hockey stick, the famous plot (shown below), published by University of Massachusetts geoscientist Michael Mann and colleagues. This plot purports to show that we are now experiencing the warmest climate in a millennium, and that the earth, after remaining cool for centuries during the medieval era, suddenly began to heat up about 100 years ago--just at the time that the burning of coal and oil led to an increase in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.

I talked about this at length in my December 2003 column. Unfortunately, discussion of this plot has been so polluted by political and activist frenzy that it is hard to dig into it to reach the science. My earlier column was largely a plea to let science proceed unmolested. Unfortunately, the very importance of the issue has made careful science difficult to pursue.

2.  News Release, COOLING THE WARMING DEBATE: Berkeley Earth Releases Global Land Warming Analysis, Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (October 20, 2011)

The BEST group issued a press release summarizing its findings:

Global warming is real, according to a major study released today.  Despite issues raised by climate change skeptics, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study finds reliable evidence of a rise in the average world land temperature of approximately 1 degree Celsius since the mid-1950s.

3.  Richard A. Muller, The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism: There were good reasons for doubt, until now.., Wall Street Journal (October 21, 2011)

In this op-ed Muller described his approach and his findings.  He concluded with these words:

When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn't know what we'd find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.

Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects?

C.  Reaction to BEST Study

A number of news sources, like the first two below, have described the BEST study and Muller's conversion to belief in global warming.  The third post is by a partisan who still has doubts about global warming - and his ad hominem arguments indicate that he is ideologically-driven rather than rational about the subject.  The fourth article responds to the third.

1.  Geoff Mohan, Climate skeptic admits he was wrong to doubt global-warming data, L.A. Times (October 21, 2011) 

2.  Brad Plumer, A skeptical physicist ends up confirming climate data, Ezra Klein's Wonkblog at Washington Post (October 20, 2011)

3.  Mark Morano, Befuddled Warmist Richard Muller Declares Skeptics Should Convert to Believers Because His Study Shows the Earth Has Warmed Since the 1950s! Climate Depot Responds,  Prison Planet (October 21, 2011)

4.  Brian Beutler, Climate Change Deniers Abandon 'Befuddled Warmist' Physicist Who Came Around On Global Warming, Talking Points Memo (October 22, 2011)

D.  My Take

Once it is conceded that climate change is real and that it is not caused by urban centers or ocean currents it seems inescapable that it is the result of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  No one denies that the concentration of greenhouse gases has been vastly increasing, nor does anyone deny that these gases would have the effect of warming the earth.  Does anyone out there have another plausible theory as to what is causing global warming?  Is there any other rational explanation you can think of?

Many of those who deny the reality of climate change or who refuse to believe that it is caused by human activity do so for political reasons.  They oppose government regulation in general, so they deny the reality of a problem that must be resolved by government action, if it is to be resolved at all. 

We all love our children and this beautiful big blue planet.  For their sake and its sake we have a responsibility to halt and if possible reverse climate change.  It is time to put ideology aside and begin taking steps to solve this problem.

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