How fast is the world warming? Is it burning?

by Fabius Maximus

Summary: Let’s take a break from political bickering to see how fast the Earth is warming. Just the facts, please.

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The world has been warming since the middle of the 19th century. Human-caused warming has become the dominant cause of warming since roughly WWII. The core consensus of climate scientists, proven by a bizarre number of studies (pouring more water on a rock doesn’t make it wetter), was clearly stated in the Summary of Policymakers by Working Group I of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

Alarmists slap the “95% of scientists believe” label on all sorts of claims, many quite delusional. But as somebody said, “God is in the details.” So is science. How fast is the world warming? Journalists eager for clickbait headlines, seldom give us this vital information. Fortunately, in the 21st century this information is easily available at NOAA’s invaluable “Climate At A Glance” website.

Global warming from NOAA's "Climate at a glance" website.

Fiddling with the controls tells us the warming rate over different periods of time. Left and Right pick random periods that suit their needs. The most recent month is July 2019.

  • 0.08°C/decade (0.14°F) – 1880-2019 – The full instrument record. Of course, the earlier data is much less reliable.
  • 0.12°C/decade (0.22°F) – 1918-1950 – The instrument record for the pre-anthro era for those skeptical of global temp. data before WWI.
  • 0.14°C/decade (0.25°F) – 1950-2019 – The anthropogenic era, per the finding of the IPCC’s AR5.
  • 0.19°C/decade (0.34°F) – 1989-2019 – The past 30 years, the period for climate metrics defined by the World Meteorological Organization.
  • 0.16°C/decade (0.29°F) – 1998-2016 – What an economist might use: the warming rate from peak to peak (18 years) of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

Whatever we choose, there are two obvious and incontrovertible conclusions. First, the rate of warming is very slow. It is small compared to natural intra-annual variations and those over decades – and small compared to natural variations over centuries and millennia. This puts a big burden of proof on those saying that we have already seen severe weather changes from anthropogenic warming. So far it has not (a subject for a future post).

Second, the rate of warming has accelerated in the anthro era (i.e., due to us).

The seas are equally important!

The eminent Roger Pielke Sr. (see Wikipedia) has long said that the focus on the surface air temperature was inappropriate, and that…

“The spatial pattern of ocean heat content change is the appropriate metric to assess climate system heat changes including global warming.” (Source.)

This, along with his many other now accepted insights, earned Pielke smears by climate activists (“denier”), such as those at Skeptical Science (Dana Nuccitelli’s launch pad, which should be called “skeptical of science”). See this note for more detail about that pitiful story. The “pause” or “hiatus” in warming brought recognition that he was correct (see links to papers in section 7 here). So what are the oceans, Earth’s giant heat reservoirs, doing?

Again we turn to NOAA’s invaluable website. Ocean heat measurements became quite accurate after roughly 2004 with data from the ARGO float network (after implementation of the OW quality control method). See the graphs here. The oceans warm more slowly than the atmosphere due to their vastly larger thermal inertia. The ocean’s top 100 meters have warmed approximately 0.12°C (0.22°F) over 2004-2018 – or ~0.09°C/decade (0.16°F). Similar to the long-term change (since the Little Ice Age) in the surface temperature record. This warming affects the oceans’ ecosystems as much or more than warming affects the surface world.

The top 700 meters have warmed more slowly than the upper ocean: ~0.04°C/decade (0.07°F).


The most obvious one: the world is not “burning”, despite the thousands of hysterical screams by climate activists. But the warming warrants policy action. The RCP’s provide a basis for that analysis and planning. But that science is insufficient to push the public to support climate activists’ goals. Hence the current propaganda barrage. Science is exaggerated and misrepresented. Normal extreme weather is attributed to anthropogenic climate change. (See links below for examples.) This makes effective policy action more difficult. It is the big reason that we do so little to prepare for climate change.

But anthro warming is cumulative, and we will see big changes – certainly unpleasant – if warming continues at this rate during the 21st century. Taking the logical warming rate (and highest recent rate) – that is, using the WMO standard, the past 30 years – global temperature would increase by 1°C (1.8°F) roughly every 50 years. That does not mean an Apocalypse would arrive in 2070 or that climate change is the most serious problem we face (e.g., continuing to wreck the oceans might create an apocalypse by 2070).

That rise of 1°C (1.8°F) becomes likely if the centuries-long trend in technological progress slows and if fertility stops falling. Those are key assumptions in RCP8.5, the worst-case assumption in AR5. A large body of research shows that under RCP8.5 the results would be terrible by 2100. Such a slowdown in tech seems unlikely since a new industrial revolution appears to have begun – including, among other things, radical changes in energy tech (perhaps even fusion). There is no evidence that global fertility is stabilizing, nor have I seen any plausible case for that happening in the next decade or so.

But even smaller increases in global temperature would be unpleasant, and are worth avoiding. Especially since the logical path is reducing emissions from fossil fuels through improved efficiency and use of cleaner energy sources. For instance, replacing coal, which is especially polluting to mine and burn, with natural gas. Also effective would be continuing research to produce less expensive electric vehicles and providing reasonable incentives for their purchase.

America’s cities were wired for electricity and telephone over two decades, a radical change beyond anything we have seen since. We can make such jumps today. We need only invest in the necessary research and the will to make it happen.

Examples of climate misinformation

  1. Activists hope that fake news about droughts will win.
  2. The North Pole is now a lake! Are you afraid yet?
  3. A look at the workings of Climate Propaganda Inc.
  4. New climate porn: it forces walruses to jump to their death!
  5. Another heartbreaking story of climate doom! – About the Okjökull glacier in Iceland.
  6. An example of climate activists at work that shows why they lost.
  7. Terrifying predictions about the melting North Pole!

Normal weather becomes evidence of a Climate Apocalypse!

  1. 90% of the biggest Yosemite glacier has melted. Did we do it?
  2. What we learned from the freak storm that “melted the North Pole” on December 30.
  3. This El Niño is not Godzilla. What can we learn from the 2 years of hype?
  4. Lessons learned from the end of California’s not so “permanent drought.”
  5. The Texas drought ends; climate alarmists wrong again!
  6. Daily stories of climate death build a Green New Deal!
  7. Weather porn about Texas, a lesson for Earth Day 2019.
  8. Wildfires and climate change: fake news in action.