2011-09-17 09:03:16Pielke question Q6: Is Global Warming a subset of Climate Change?

Is global warming (and cooling) a subset of climate change or does it dominate climate change?
Draft response

The term "global warming" has been associated with the impact of added CO2. This has the effect of restricting the escape of radiant energy from the Earth's atmosphere, resulting in an average increase in temperatures, but also in generally higher humidity; together, these seem to give rise to much more "interesting" weather: in some places warmer; and due to atmospheric dynamics, in some places cooler.
Separately, the growing utilization of land by human activity has probably affected climate since the development of agriculture, through de-forestation.
Evidently, these two issues have different cause but overlapping effects.

2011-09-17 09:13:43
Dikran Marsupial
Gavin Cawley

Seems a pretty daft question as it isn't an "or" but an "and".  Global warming is a part of climate change, and currently is is the most important long term change.  However that doesn't mean we don't care about other aspects of anthropogenically induced climate change.  Duh!

Also, what cooling?

2011-09-17 09:44:16Comment
Robert Way


The stratosphere is cooling

2011-09-17 09:58:45
Alex C


>>>in some places warmer, in some places cooler.

I'm not a big fan of such a simplification.  It is far too vague, try some specifics.  One that comes to mind is the possible causative effect between the dampened AO and low summer arctic sea ice extent (uh, the latter causes the former).  Less ice = more heat stored during summer = more upwelling during winter = high pressure region over Arctic = cold polar air being pushed into norther Europe and NE USA.

That is one suggestion (I don't know the current state of its acceptance, I do know that Lockwood back in 2009 (I think it was 2009) suggested that the solar minimum was a cause, this winter would provide a good case study as we, obviously, are no longer in a solar minimum).  I don't know of other cases of localized cooling being implied from a warming planet.  The stratosphere example is a poor one I think because it diverges from the surface situation I am sure Pielke is implying, and no average person cares about the stratosphere anyways.

2011-09-17 10:02:09
Alex C


It is a very daft question though, it doesn't lead anywhere.  I would be wary though about saying "and" though, that could easily become a "they can't decide/don't know" trap.  I am not sure that Pielke would use that low of a scrape, but I like the way you have approached the question Neal.  That is reframing - explaining why it is warming.

Maybe some more detailed explanation of the effects on climate change?  Perhaps some links to arguments associated with the "It's not bad" group.

2011-09-17 10:14:04


OK, I've done with it what comes to mind. Can somebody propose specific improvements?

2011-09-17 10:29:46
Dana Nuccitelli
Pielke is asking the question because one of his main arguments is that we shouldn't be so concerned about surface temp changes, we should be concerned about various climate changes and figure out how to adapt to them, like changing weather patterns. He thinks we, along with most climate scientists, are focusing too much on temperatures. The answer depends on how you define 'global warming'. Is it the global energy imbalance? The surface temperature change? Surface plus atmosphere plus ocean temp change? A simple answer would be to define it as a global energy imbalance, in which case it drives climate change.
2011-09-17 17:18:42


It's a trap, let's see.

First try
SkS: we already see many changes in our climate (shifting rainfall patterns, melting glaciers, ocean acidification, etc.), one of which is the temperature increase.
Pielke: see? SkS thinks that global warming is not that important, please move on!

Second try
SkS: although we see many changes in our climate we may safely say that it's up to the warming produced by CO2 and other anthropogenic GHG.
Pielke: see? SkS can't see what really matters to people, you bunch of eco-communists.

Ok, one can always distort an answer. On a more serious tone, the question is ill posed, as Dana noted.
What does it mean a subset of climate change? That climate changes for whatever reasons and warming is one of many effects, like a glacial termination? Are we looking at today's AGW or at the last 500 million years?
And, what does it mean that global warming dominate climate changes? That changes in GHG must always happen before any other change?
Finally, is it a strictly scientific discourse or are we communicating science to the general public?
Depending on the definition of climate change and global warming and on the context, the answer may vary.

2011-09-17 18:39:09
Rob Painting

Trap? I think it's a tar baby alright. Don't let us get involved in this meaningless diversion.

2011-09-17 19:01:05


I don't understand Rob P & Riccardo's concerns. All of these things are valid concerns; if he says, "Temperature isn't important," we say "The research community seems to think otherwise."

We are not obliged to agree with him. This is "an exchange of views", which does not mean that we plan to change our views!

2011-09-17 20:16:58
Rob Painting

Neal, all I'm saying is don't waste time on Pielke's "look squirrel!" distractions. I've spent hours going though every post on his blog (research for my post), he does the same shit with every mainstream scientist he corresponds with. Near as I can tell they just get fed up with him. He'll keep dragging up pointless diversions. 

I'm not worried in the sense Riccardo seems to be. 

2011-09-17 20:31:23



If we conduct an exchange and it stops going anywhere useful, we can always say, "Hey, it's been nice chatting with you. But we still have THESE unanswered issues. And we're STILL relying on mainstream climate science. Got to go, bye." 

That's also an advantage of discussion being off-line.

Do you have any suggestions for further development of the text?

2011-09-17 21:12:10Q1 & Q2


It seems to me that the material for Q6 could also be applied to Q1 and Q2.

Maybe even just write up one answer for all 3.

2011-09-17 23:54:32


Prior to about 1930, discussions of warming and cooling used the terms 'climate ameleoration' and 'climate deterioration'.  Prior to 1821, when Ignaz Venetz described proofs of multiple ice ages caused by temperature variations, there was nothing to discuss.  Prior to 1821, most people held to the biblical literalists' view that globally, climate was and always had been constant within narrow limits, the Noachian flood excepted.


We now know that the global climate history shows periods of warming, of cooling and of stability within limits.  What does it mean to ask if cooling or warming dominates?  Not even a child would ask if the tide rises more than it falls.  Currently we would be due some global cooling but for anthropogenic warming.  For that reason, global warming dominates conversations about climate change.  Until our Sun becomes a red giant there is no way that global warming could dominate climate change from natural causes

2011-09-18 00:05:27


I think the issue that Pielke may be trying to bring in is the fact that some areas have received colder winters and also unseasonal snow & ice. In view of the dynamics of weather, I don't view that as a conceptual problem, but there are people who will jump up and say, "Global warming? Well, why did 60 people just die in Germany when the roof caved in from too much snow? How's THAT for global warming!"

I don't know exactly what angle he's coming at it from, so I don't want to say too much until later (if there is a later).

2011-09-18 00:39:11What Wikipedia has to say


I just checked what Wikipedia has to say when I search for "climate change":


The most general definition of climate change is a change in the statistical properties of the climate system when considered over long periods of time, regardless of cause.[1][2] Accordingly, fluctuations over periods shorter than a few decades, such as El Niño, do not represent climate change.

The term sometimes is used to refer specifically to climate change caused by human activity, as opposed to changes in climate that may have resulted as part of Earth's natural processes.[3] In this latter sense, used especially in the context of environmental policy, the term climate change today is synonymous with anthropogenic global warming. Within scientific journals, however, global warming refers to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect.


With that in mind, Dr. Pielke's question cannot completely be answered before first defining which definition for "climate change" applies. In addition, wasn't it a Republican "ploy" to rename "global warming" to "climate change" as that sounded less frightening?

2011-09-18 00:44:21


I am proposing to answer the question in a way that leaves maximum freedom to respond to anything. I don't know why he is asking this question. But we are not taking a course from him, nor an exam; so we can respond in whatever conceptual framework we choose.

Yes, Frank Luntz gets the "credit" for the term "climate change." But it turns out to be useful, since the impact of additional CO2 is obviously not a uniform increase of temperature everywhere.

2011-09-18 05:46:43
Dana Nuccitelli

My suggested answer:

"That depends on how "climate change" is defined. Long-term global temperature and climate changes are both ultimately caused by global energy imbalances, while short-term changes can also be caused by internal variability."

Just leave it short vague like that. If he wants to pursue the matter, let him define his terms or clarify whatever the hell he's trying to get at. If this were a quiz we probably wouldn't get a good score, but it's not a quiz, and if it were, the teacher would need a good talking to for such a poorly-framed question.

2011-09-18 06:49:19
Rob Painting

A vote here for a vague reply. 

2011-09-18 10:07:34
Rob Honeycutt


Can we start pulling all these answers together into one post.  Perhaps in a new thread?

2011-09-18 10:50:47
Dana Nuccitelli

Done Rob.  See here.