Is the Earth Warming Catastrophically Fast?

Agresti, J. D. (2017, March 15). Is the Earth Warming Catastrophically Fast? Retrieved from
Agresti, James D. “Is the Earth Warming Catastrophically Fast?” Just Facts. 15 March 2017. Web. 19 June 2024.<>.
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James D. Agresti, “Is the Earth Warming Catastrophically Fast?” Just Facts. March 15, 2017.
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Agresti, James D. “Is the Earth Warming Catastrophically Fast?” Just Facts. March 15, 2017.

By James D. Agresti
March 15, 2017

In a recent appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Bill Nye, the celebrity “Science Guy,” declared the “scientific evidence” is “overwhelming” that humans are causing the earth to warm “catastrophically fast.” He insisted this is a “settled point” and a “very serious problem in the next few decades.” Claims to this effect are common among climate change activists, but they are rooted in feeble, misleading evidence that is deflated by a broad range of facts.

Modern Warming

Contrary to the views of 24% of voters, the earth is measurably warmer than it was three decades ago. Satellite data and ground-level thermometers both show that the earth’s average temperature has increased by about 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1980s:

Some people are quick to dismiss any evidence that the earth has warmed, given the track record of deceit and misinformation by global warming alarmists. However, this satellite data was developed and is maintained by John Christy and Roy Spencer, two of the world’s most prominent skeptics of the view that global warming is a serious threat.

This modern warming trend is corroborated by an average global sea level rise of 1.3 inches per decade, as measured via satellites. It is also supported by a worldwide network of tide gauges.

In sum, multiple lines of credible evidence indicate the earth has warmed in recent decades. On the other hand, Christy and Spencer have documented that this warming has been far less than the vast majority of climate models predicted:

Recent Warming in Context

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the “leading international body for the assessment of climate change.” Its “work serves as the key basis for climate policy decisions made by governments throughout the world.”

To determine if modern warming “is unusual,” the IPCC has pointed out that “it is essential to place it in the context of longer-term climate variability.” This important and logical statement cuts straight to Nye’s claim that the planet is warming “catastrophically fast.”

Nye also told Carlson that the earth has been warming in “decades and now years” by amounts that would normally occur over “millions of years or let’s say 15,000 years.” Nye emphasized, “It’s the rate, Mr. Carlson, it’s the rate that is such a concern.”

Nye’s claims are based on flimsy cherry-picked data that does not meet basic standards of scientific integrity. Understanding this requires a little background on how scientists place the modern climate in context.

The satellite temperature record only goes back to the late 1970s, and the ground-level thermometer record only extends to the mid-1800s. Thus, scientists use “proxies” to estimate temperatures before this era. Proxies are aspects of nature that respond to climate, such as the widths of tree rings and certain elements in marine sediments.

Typically, proxies are indirect measures of temperature from a very limited number of locations, and hence, they are uncertain and often at odds with one another. This can be seen in the following graph from the latest major IPCC report. It presents the results of various proxy studies that cover the past 2,000 years in the earth’s Northern Hemisphere, which is where most proxy studies have been conducted:

For an obvious reason, scientists call this a “spaghetti” graph. And by picking certain strands of spaghetti from it, one can draw very different conclusions.

Note that the black lines on the right of the graph are not proxy studies. They are modern instrument-measured temperatures, which the IPCC often splices with proxy data. This can be misleading, because much of the proxy data in this graph shows temperatures that are the same or warmer a thousand years ago than in recent years. Adding thick black lines to the end of the graph visually masks that reality.

Two pages after this graph, the IPCC bluntly states that it “remains a challenge” to determine temperatures over the last 2,000 years “due to limitations of spatial sampling, uncertainties in individual proxy records and challenges associated with the statistical methods used to calibrate and integrate multi-proxy information.” These statistical problems also apply to integrating proxies with modern instrument-measured temperatures.

Moreover, a 2011 paper in the journal Annals of Applied Statistics found that:

  • “the most comprehensive publicly available database” of “proxies do not predict temperature significantly better than random series generated independently of temperature.”
  • “it is not clear that the proxies currently used to predict temperature are even predictive of it at the scale of several decades let alone over many centuries.”

Furthermore, the ClimateGate emails prove that the IPCC was not candid with the public about proxy studies. These emails show IPCC scientists and authors:

  • writing, “I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the proxy data’ but in reality the situation is not quite so simple. … I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1000 years ago.”
  • proposing to conduct an “honest” study about the “uncertainties” of proxies and then “publish, retire, and don’t leave a forwarding address,” because “what I almost think I know to be the case, the results of this study will show” that we “honestly know f**k-all” (i.e., little or nothing) about temperature changes in the Northern Hemisphere over more than a hundred years.
  • creating a diagram of raw proxy data to see if it “provided” an “obvious” picture of “unprecedented warming over the last millennium or so”—and then burying this diagram over concerns that it could “dilute the message about the strength of 20th century mean warming.”
  • writing, “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick … to hide the decline.”

The last of these emails exposed how leading IPCC scientists cropped three different proxy series to hide the fact that they show temperature declines in the modern era. These declines directly contradict instrument-measured temperatures.

The author of this email spliced these doctored proxy series with instrument-measured temperatures to make the following chart. It was published with a note stating that “all the reconstructions … indicate that against the background of the millennium as a whole, the 20th century was unusually warm”:

This is the type of deceitfully presented, cherry-picked data that lies behind claims that the current warming is abnormal. Comprehensive, untainted data does not show this. Most importantly, the proxy data does not have nearly enough certainty to be described as “overwhelming” or “settled.”

Local Anecdotes & Global Trends

Near the end of the interview, Carlson asked Nye, “What would the climate look like right now without human activity?” He replied, “It would look like it did in 1750,” and “you could not grow wine-worthy grapes in Britain, as you can today, because the climate is changing.” Nye also rattled off similar claims about French winemakers, ski resorts in Europe, pesticides in the Midwest, and beetles in Wyoming.

Such statements betray gross ignorance of the science of climate change, because local and regional anecdotes often don’t reflect global trends. In the candid words of a 2001 ClimateGate email:

Look at the instrumental record! There are huge differences between different regions—Alaska has warmed substantially while eastern North America cooled after the 1950s. Locking onto local records, no matter how beautiful, can lead to serious errors.

Likewise, the 2007 IPCC report presented the following chart of regional proxy data from three studies to show “the wide spread of values exhibited by the individual records that have been used to reconstruct” temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere:

The IPCC used this chart to explain why “multiple strands of evidence” showing “a period of widespread and generally warmer temperatures” in Western Europe during the Middle Ages doesn’t prove that the entire globe was warmer at this time. The IPCC made this argument despite a “very diverse mixture of” evidence for this warm period, such as “historical information,” “treeline and vegetation changes,” and “records of the cultivation of cereals and vines.”

The IPCC even acknowledged that “considerable areas of Iceland” were cultivated in the 10th century,” Norse settlers colonized Greenland, and “a general absence of sea ice allowed regular voyages at latitudes far to the north of what was possible in the colder 14th century.” Yet, the IPCC concluded that “in medieval times, as now, climate was unlikely to have changed in the same direction, or by the same magnitude, everywhere.” These statements show that by the standards of the IPCC, Nye’s anecdotes don’t prove a thing about global warming.

Ironically, Nye’s claim about wine grapes in Britain is meritless even in a local sense. Archaeological and historical records show that wine grapes were grown in England from about 1000 to 1400 AD. This is roughly the same amount of time from 1750 as we are today, which undercuts Nye’s claim that the earth is now warming in years by amounts that would normally occur over millions or thousands of years. As explained in books that address the topic of wine grapes in Britain:

  • “Surviving landscape evidence of cultivation and contemporary documentation show that grapes for wine were grown even as far north as England during the Middle Ages up through the long period of mild climate that lasted until approximately the end of the 14th century, when weather conditions generally deteriorated with lower temperatures and increased dampness crippling agriculture across northern Europe.” – Daily Life in the Middle Ages, page 20.
  • “Bede [673–735 AD] states that there were vineyards ‘in some places’ [in England], but it is probable that these remained few until the climate began to warm up in the eighth and ninth centuries. By 1100 to 1200 the climate was more like that of northern France today with summer temperatures generally about 1° C higher than now…. Domesday Book [1086 AD] records the existence of 55 vineyards of all sizes in England.” – The Archaeology of Medieval England and Wales, page 276.

After Nye talked about grapes and beetles, he said “That’s how the world would be different if it weren’t for humans. … I spent a lot of time with this topic.” His statements only reveal that he has spent a lot of time listening to climate change alarmists and very little time conducting genuine research.

Conditions such as growing seasons, rainfall, drought, famine, insect populations, storms, and flooding have varied widely across time and place throughout earth’s history. Hence, there are countless anecdotes that one can use to tell climate stories. That, however, is not science.

Per Webster’s College Dictionary, science is the “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” The key word is “systematic,” and contrary to claims that global warming would:

  • cause famines, global vegetation productivity increased by 6.2% between 1982 and 1999.
  • decimate the world’s coastlines, the world has actually gained coastal land over the past three decades.
  • increase the number and intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms, no such trends are evident for as far back in time as the data extends.
  • increase rainfall and flooding, no clear trends are evident for as far back in time as the data extends.

Given these facts and others like them, climate doomsayers often resort to anecdotes. And as with Nye, even these anecdotes sometimes prove to be false.

The So-Called Consensus

Echoing certain journalists, Nye told Carlson it is a “settled point” in “the science community” that global warming will be a “very serious problem in the next few decades.” Such claims generally stem from non-representative polls that ask scientists if humans have contributed to global warming—not if it presents a grave threat.

In contrast, 3,805 people with degrees in atmospheric, earth, or environmental science and 9,029 Ph.D.’s in varying scientific fields, have signed a petition stating:

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.

This does not mean that these individuals represent a majority of scientists or that they are the most informed about this issue. However, it does show substantial dissent among scientists. This directly refutes those who claim that no such debate exists.

There is a lot of posturing about science in the world of politics, but much of what the media reports as “science” is actually partisan propaganda that is refuted by science. The issue of global warming is rife with this, and Nye’s statements epitomize the junk science that has become so prevalent today.

  • March 15, 2017 at 2:52 PM

    what this says about POLLs is as important to any discussion.They are flawed due to the limitations of a response. There are very few clear cut yeas and no answers and no method to score them on a 1-10 scale.
    If the question is only: are humans responsible for global warming should have a different result than how are humans contributing to global warming and what is that result on climate change if any ?
    The narrow definition of human and climate change needs to expand to
    the impact of human life itself. The humans of 1000 or 10000 years ago could not have impacted the earths resources as they do today with the needs of sustainable modern life.

  • March 15, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    I have always felt that climate change promoters discredit themselves by the plethora of misinformation they produce. they should be ashamed by putting forward such erroneous and false information. I believe the climate has warmed somewhat, but I believe it is essentially cyclical. I’ve been around for 82 years.

    • March 15, 2017 at 4:10 PM

      The worst part is that NOBODY is held accountable for the fear mongering.

      • June 8, 2017 at 2:55 AM

        Right! Must be a lot of happy people out there because “Ignorance is Bliss!”

    • March 15, 2017 at 4:14 PM

      I’m only 24 and I grew up in San Francisco where I was indoctrinated constantly about the impending climate apocalypse. Regardless, even I can see that the current hysteria about global warming is just another environmentalist fad, much like organic foods, gluten-free diets, DDT, fossil-fuel exhaustion (1970s), etc. I believe that anthropogenic warming might be a real problem, but certainly it is nothing close to what it is being portrayed as.

      I can only imagine how absurd the climate-change industry must seem to someone who has been around for 82 years and has witnessed so many other similar fads.

    • May 17, 2017 at 10:15 AM

      even if carbon taxes were applied and places with more trees received income, there is no proof that this would slow down the industrial expansion. in fact to the contrary it is widely thought that the forested regions owners would take there money and invest in putting up an actual business that could make them even more money…

      • November 27, 2018 at 11:31 AM

        I would point out that there are no significant problems solved by taxes. However, there are many significant issues created by taxes.

  • March 15, 2017 at 4:08 PM

    Another outstanding article! I wish this website would publish more, but I also realize that each article must require large amounts of work. Thanks!

  • March 15, 2017 at 7:57 PM

    If global warming is real what is the cure other to abolish human life? Maybe remove all cars and maybe electricity I think not, GOD made a prefect world and only he can destroy it. Have faith friend.

  • March 16, 2017 at 9:39 AM

    It troubles me that our public schools are teaching the “junk science” behind Nye’s statements regarding global warming! When will they be held responsible for perpetrating these myths to young impressionable minds?

  • March 16, 2017 at 9:52 AM

    Predicting climate change is just like weathermen predicting the weather. They have a lot of facts but are wrong more often than right. They just don’t know.
    Now climate naturally changes all the time. Man has little to do with it. What we are harming is the oceans with all,the chemical run off and all the trash pollution like plastic going into the ocean. We are killing the ocean thus we are killing ourselves. Perhaps we should start there. Clean the oceans and save ourselves.

  • March 16, 2017 at 3:42 PM

    I never believed in Global Warming (now its called Climate change) probably because no one can answer my question ” what melted the ice age when no cars or factories exist back then ? dont get me wrong, I do believe we should take care of our environtment but please dont use scare tactics. A lot of multi million dollar windmills were erected in the deserts of Califonia but my electric bill has not gone done probably because more than half of the windmills dont work at all.

    • April 22, 2018 at 1:38 AM

      Milankovitch Cycles.

  • March 18, 2017 at 8:01 PM

    Everything, in my estimation, is Relative, Cyclic, and Interrelated. What goes around, comes around. Whatever is done in one country affects all countries one way or another. That is, drought, floods, hurricanes, cyclones, wildfires, tornadoes, and blizzards affect certain parts of the world at certain times. All this amounts to evidence that Climate Change is real and does not discriminate. The worst scenario is when it will be too late to do anything about it. God may have made the world but he put it in our hands to take care of it. Unfortunately, all economic systems in this world do not take sustainability serious. Right now, we are living on a planet with all kinds of life but if you look at our Solar System and beyond, there is not life to be found. That does not mean there is no other life in this huge universe since the distances are too vast to travel in search of other life. But, we have to wake up and take care of our only living planet since time may be running out.

    • February 5, 2019 at 5:33 PM

      What exactly is your point.

  • March 28, 2017 at 4:19 PM

    Two words: melting ice

    Your house is on fire and it appears that most of you don’t even know it. Let me ask you a question: all the tornados that are appearing at the wrong time of the year in the wrong places, is caused by what? All the overwhelming flooding is because of?
    But even if you don’t believe in any climate change in any possible way, how can you argue for more carbon? More pollution? Anyone remember NYC before better gas standards were created? Coal/Oil is holding back innovation. Time to move forward.

    • March 30, 2017 at 4:56 PM

      One word: nonsense.

      As the article documents, no clear trends in rainfall or flooding are evident for as far back in time as the data extends. The same applies to tornadoes and other forms of extreme weather.

      Carbon dioxide, the primary manmade greenhouse gas, is not “carbon.” Unlike carbon, CO2 is colorless, odorless, and nontoxic at many times the concentration in earth’s atmosphere.

    • March 31, 2017 at 9:31 AM

      Since when is carbon a “pollutant”? That’s a question that no panicky “warmist” wants to answer.

      • April 4, 2017 at 6:38 PM

        It becomes a pollutant when it reaches a level that will warm and acidify the oceans, wreak havoc on otherwise stable and predictable wether patters that have allowed for our bountiful food supplies, and CO2 isn’t the 800# gorilla, it’s Methane….keep your hubris in your pocket and your head in the sand. I’m sure you’ll blame the hundreds of millions of climate change refugees on “liberals”….

        • November 27, 2018 at 9:42 AM

          Not a single bit of what you posted is correct. Did you even read the article? Have you never looked beyond what the verifiably false MSM have been portraying? The ocean is not becoming “acidic”. At best, it is becoming slightly less alkaline and for it to even be neutral it would have to have changed by an order of magnitude to get to that point.

          95% of the “greenhouse” gases is water vapor with the remaining 5% comprised mostly of CO2, with all others, including Methane being tiny slivers of a small sliver of the pie. The vast majority of the CO2 is naturally occurring and not created by any human activity.

          Additionally, a warmer Earth with a lot more CO2 would result in far more plant life and is far more preferable than a colder planet. We know that the Earth has been far more warm and lush than it is now. It has also been far colder and barren. All without any influence from man.

  • June 29, 2017 at 6:07 AM

    Can we all agree, that Carbon Dioxide is in part responsible for the greenhouse effect, as a starting point? If we do, we know that half of the CO2 rejected in the air, is absorbed by the plants and the water, even if both, are already saturated with it! We also know that every 2 years, Human’s activity, destroy forests and vegetation for commercial reasons at an equal rate as the surface of Germany or 357 K km2 (138 K square miles). Know, that the rise in temperature brings drought and wildfire, resulting in the release of added CO2 in the air! Our world is a logistics chain, and when dysfunction occurs it impacts every step of the logistics. What happens today is not cyclical or natural but humans’ driven.

    • August 7, 2017 at 12:20 PM

      No. We cannot agree on any of your claims.

  • September 14, 2017 at 12:43 PM

    Two points. First, the interesting part about the graphs is the scale. A wise statistics professor once told me that you can paint two very different pictures using the same data by changing the scales (X/Y axis). A global temperature increase of .6-.9 degrees since the 1980’s can look huge if the scale is very granular (e.g. -0.2 to 1.6 degrees), but is invisible if the scale is broader (e.g. -2 to 16 degrees). The scale used sometimes reflects the bias (or intent) of the presenter. Second, the difficulty in building a reliable dependent correlation between global temperature and any single measure-able factor, like CO2 levels, sun spots, glacial melt, sea level, etc. The earth’s climate is extremely complicated and driven by many independent factors, each one with varying frequency and depth of impact.

    • February 12, 2019 at 8:06 AM

      The scale of every graph in this article shows the full ranges of available data. In most cases, that’s the honest way to do it. Regrettably, journalists, politicians, and activists often do just the opposite and thereby mislead people.

  • February 17, 2020 at 8:17 AM

    Talking with Bill Nye about science is like talking with Whoopi Goldberg about philosophy-he has no science background, and is a partisan stooge.


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