Back to Basics Part 2 – What is Climate Change?

This is the second part of a two-part series of posts that present chapters from my recently published ebook On Global Warming and the Illusion of Control – Part 1.  The introductory post for the book is here (WattsUpWithThat cross post is here), and the book in pdf format is here (25 MB). Yes, the book is free.

The topic of the first post was What is Global Warming?  For this second post, the topic is…

1.5 – What is Climate Change?

Climate change has two definitions, according to United Nation entities…not one, but two definitions.  The IPCC Third Assessment Report defines climate change in their Appendix 1 – Glossary (My boldface.):

Climate change refers to a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer). Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.

According to the IPCC, climate change can occur naturally or from man-made causes.

That IPCC definition, however, goes on to read:

Note that the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in its Article 1, defines “climate change” as: “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods”. The UNFCCC thus makes a distinction between “climate change” attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric composition, and “climate variability” attributable to natural causes.

The fact that there are two definitions is troubling because a person has to understand that there are multiple definitions of climate change when they are reading United Nations documents and their offspring.

It’s also interesting that the UNFCCC (a United Nations policy) definition of climate change does not agree the IPCC (the United Nation’s climate change report-writing entity) definition.  To that end, we’ll refer to a statement by Roger Pielke, Jr., from his book The Climate Fix:  What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming.  Roger Pielke, Jr., is a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).  Pielke, Jr., writes:

The IPCC adopts a broader definition of “climate change” that is more scientifically accurate. Claims that climate policy should be based on the work of the IPCC typically fail to recognize that the policy community has rejected the most fundamental statement of the IPCC on the issue – the very definition of “climate change”.

See the Google Preview of The Climate Fix here.

That’s an interesting realization, that the United Nations politicians don’t accept the broader scientific definition of climate change.  The politicians created their own term for natural climate change: “climate variability”.  It could be that the politicians wanted two separate terms to avoid confusion.

In the minds of most people, however, “climate change”, like “global warming”, has morphed into a term that implies man is responsible for the changes.  In fact, the publication of the U.S. National Climate Assessment Report in May 2014 prompted Dr. Judith Curry (Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology) to write at her blog ClimateEtc. (Her boldface.):

My main conclusion from reading the report is this:  the phrase ‘climate change’ is now officially meaningless.  The report effectively implies that there is no climate change other than what is caused by humans, and that extreme weather events are equivalent to climate change.  Any increase in adverse impacts from extreme weather events or sea level rise is caused by humans. Possible scenarios of future climate change depend only on emissions scenarios that are translated into warming by climate models that produce far more warming than has recently been observed.

And Dr. Curry began the closing of her post (My brackets.):

While there is some useful analysis in the report, it is hidden behind a false premise that any change in the 20th century has been caused by AGW [anthropogenic global warming].

When we look at the commonly accepted definition of climate, we can understand the fallacy behind the premise that all changes in climate are now caused by mankind.

On their Frequently Asked Questions webpage, the World Meteorological Organization asks and answers:

What is Climate?

Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the “average weather,” or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.

“Average weather” is a wonderful definition of climate.  We know that weather is chaotic and that weather is always changing and has always changed…and will continue to change in the future.   Therefore, climate is always changing and has always changed…and will continue to change in the future.

By blaming all changes in weather on mankind, reports like the U.S. National Climate Assessment Report imply that extreme weather can be minimized by eliminating our emissions of man-made greenhouse gases—providing a false hope to naïve persons of a future without hurricanes and tropical cyclones, without tornados, without blizzards, without droughts, without floods.  They further suggest to those trusting souls that all we have to do to make weather nonthreatening on our planet is drive efficient cars, install solar panels on our roofs and install wind farms everywhere.  That suggestion is not only misleading, it’s foolish. Weather has always changed, and it will continue to change in the future.  Because climate is average weather, climate has always and will always change.

Further, climate scientists must rely on computer models to predict how climate and weather might change in the future in response to the increased emissions of man-made greenhouse gases.   And that raises the question:  Are climate models capable of simulating the factors that are of interest to people and policymakers?  The realistic answer is no…as you have already seen and will continue to see throughout this book.  Climate models will be of value only after they are capable of simulating the natural factors that can contribute to or suppress man-made global warming and that cause climate to change. And climate modelers are nowhere close to being able to simulate those factors.

Like greenhouse gases and global warming, when the term climate change is used, everyone now assumes the human-induced variety is being discussed…when, in fact, the speaker or author might be referring to naturally caused variations in climate.  This problem was recently presented in the testimony of Dr. Daniel B. Botkin (Professor Emeritus from the University of California Santa Barbara) at a hearing for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology (May 29, 2014).  The subject of the hearing was Examining the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process. If you were to read Dr. Botkin’s environmental background (See his webpage here.), you’d be convinced his testimony would be full of praise for the IPCC. Surprisingly, that was not the case.  See his written statement here.  About the use of the term climate change in the recent IPCC report, Dr. Botkin wrote:

The reports suffers [sic] from the use term “climate change” with two meanings: natural and human-induced. These are both given as definitions in the IPCC report and are not distinguished in the text and therefore confuse a reader. (The Climate Change Assessment uses the term throughout including its title, but never defines it.) There are places in the reports where only the second meaning—human induced—makes sense, so that meaning has to be assumed. There are other places where either meaning could be applied.

In those places where either meaning can be interpreted, if the statement is assumed to be a natural change, then it is a truism, a basic characteristic of Earth’s environment and something people have always know and experienced. If the meaning is taken to be human-caused, then in spite of the assertions in the report, the available data do not support the statements.

Dr. Botkin’s statement is chock full of similar realities about the IPCC reports.  Please take the time to read it.  Another link to his written statement is here.

Figure 1.5-1

Figure 1.5-1 is a screen capture of the four photos at the top of the NOAA Climate variability webpage. (Archived here.) They show a thunderstorm, strong waves eroding a beach, a wildfire, and a pickup truck on a highway partly submerged by a flood.

But is NOAA presenting those illustrations in a discussion of naturally caused or anthropogenically caused weather events?

In recent years, we’ve seen similar photographs used repeatedly by climate change alarmists as misleading “proof” of anthropogenic climate change, yet the images in Figure 1.5-1 weren’t used in a discussion of man-made global warming.  They were included in a discussion of weather, specifically El Niño-Southern Oscillation (a.k.a. ENSO, El Niño and La Niña events), the largest weather events on Earth. NOAA/CPC provides an excellent overview of natural climate variability/change on that webpage. The text on that NOAA webpage reads (my boldface):

One of the most prominent aspects of our weather and climate is its variability. This variability ranges over many time and space scales, from small-scale phenomena such as wind gusts, localized thunderstorms and tornadoes, to larger-scale features such as fronts and storms, to even more prolonged features such as droughts and floods, and to fluctuations occurring on multi-seasonal, multi-year, multi-decade and even multi-century time scales. Some examples of these longer time-scale fluctuations include an abnormally hot and dry summer, an abnormally cold and snowy winter, a consecutive series of abnormally mild or exceptionally severe winters, and even a mild winter followed by a severe winter. In general, the longer time-scale phenomena are often associated with changes in the atmospheric circulation that encompass areas far larger than a particular affected region. At times, these persistent circulation features occur simultaneously over vast, and seemingly unrelated, parts of the hemisphere, or even the globe, and result in abnormal weather, temperature and rainfall patterns throughout the world. During the past several decades, scientists have discovered that important aspects of this interannual variability in global weather patterns are linked to a global-scale, naturally occurring phenomenon known as the El Niño/ Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. The terms El Niño and La Niña represent opposite extremes of the ENSO cycle.

Once again, be careful when you read the phrase climate change, or see photos of weather events.   Are the authors discussing naturally caused weather or climate change or anthropogenically caused?


Were you aware that the IPCC and other government agencies used climate change for both natural and human-induced variability…often without identifying which they’re discussing?   Did you assume they were discussing the man-made type, when in fact they may have been referring to natural variability?

Some persons might believe the IPCC and other governmental agencies are purposely being vague, with hope that most readers will assume they’re discussing the man-made kind, when in reality those scientists still can’t differentiate between natural and anthropogenic climate change.

About Bob Tisdale

Research interest: the long-term aftereffects of El Niño and La Nina events on global sea surface temperature and ocean heat content. Author of the ebook Who Turned on the Heat? and regular contributor at WattsUpWithThat.
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6 Responses to Back to Basics Part 2 – What is Climate Change?

  1. Bob,

    Please, at some point, publish this book on Amazon in paperback form. I will purchase it instantly. Excellent material. Thank you sir.

  2. Bob Tisdale says:

    Joseph, thanks for the kind words.

    Regarding print versions, one of the features of ebooks is hyperlinks. The hundreds of links to support documents and webpages would be lost with a print version, so I do not intend to publish in that format.


  3. No worries Bob.

    Although footnotes can be used within the text to save the links. But I still respect the work, absolutely.

  4. Gordon Robertson says:

    “Climate change refers to a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability…”

    This statement is erroneous and probably plain wrong. There is no such thing as “THE” climate and referring to climate as ‘its’, compounds that argument.

    The IPCC obviously visualize a global climate just as they see a global temperature. Neither exists as a real entity, only as a statistical average. Talking about a global average might have some significance but due to the variability of weather, of which climate is an average, it’s plain silly to infer a global climate….or “THE” climate.

    In my region of the world, on the west coast of Canada, I live in a rain forest climate. Just 150 miles NE there is a desert climate, with sagebrush, cactii, et al. Another 150 miles north there is region we call The Caribou which is more like a rolling prairie with small diameter trees. 500 miles to the east, over several mountain ranges, you emerge from the Rockies onto a thousand miles of prairie, which has its own unique climate.

    Within 500 miles you have three distinct micro climates. How many of those make up THE climate?

  5. goldminor says:

    Bob, I think that I have found an answer to why I felt that I had a connection between the Sun and ENSO shifts in March of last year…

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