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Tough Love - Open Letter to Trump Transition Team

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Nov 15, 2016  at  at 8:20 AM
Climate Change

Open letter to the President-elect Trump Transition Team – Climate Change

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Serious research focused on understanding the climate and the forces which cause it to change is worthwhile and important. However, it is long past time to apply a strong dose of “tough love” to US climate change research.

The United States is currently spending approximately $2.5 billion per year on climate change research, out of a total climate change related budget of approximately $20 billion per year. Much of this climate change research budget is being expended on duplicative and/or speculative activities, rather than on resolving several fundamental issues involving climate change. The US can hardly afford to waste federal research funding while ignoring these fundamental issues.

This letter addresses four fundamental issues of climate change research:  (i) data collection and analysis; (ii) understanding relationships and resolving differences between surface and satellite sources; (iii) determining the correct values of climate sensitivity and climate forcing factors used as inputs to climate models; and (iv) identifying or developing and then verifying a single climate model which actually models the global climate. It seems incredible that these fundamental issues have not been resolved, if the “science is settled”.


(i) Data Collection and Analysis

The instrumental global temperature data which underlies the concerns regarding global warming and global climate change are collected from near-surface temperature sensors, sea surface floating buoys, ships “passing in the night”, balloon-borne radiosondes and satellites. The near-surface temperatures are collected, aggregated, “adjusted” and analyzed by numerous government agencies around the globe. These agencies each produce monthly anomaly calculations, which differ among themselves as the result of differing selection, “adjustment” and analysis protocols. The satellite and radiosonde temperatures are analyzed by two organizations (UAH and RSS), which produce monthly anomaly calculations, which also differ one from the other. The US also operates a network of 114 state-of-the-art near-surface measuring stations: the Climate Reference Network. However, the data from the CRN is not included in the collection and analysis of the temperatures from other sources, though it is not clear why that is the case.

There is no need for continuing analysis of near-surface temperatures by multiple agencies. However, the reasons for the differences among the several analyses must be understood and resolved before any single agency is tasked with continuing the near-surface temperature analysis effort, if that effort is to be continued. The quality of the temperature data collected, aggregated, “adjusted” and analyzed by NCEI, NASA GISS and The Hadley Center are significantly lower than the quality of the data from the US CRN. However, rather than improve the quality of the temperature data, the agencies “adjust” the data, producing estimates of what the data should have been.

Satellite temperature data are far more comprehensive than the near-surface temperature data. The satellite temperature data and radiosonde data are also used to produce two different and differing monthly temperature anomaly products. Again, there is no need for continuing analysis of this data by multiple organizations. However, the reasons for the differences between the analyses must be understood and resolved before any single organization is tasked with continuing the satellite temperature analysis effort.

The recent surface sea level rise measurements, taken both with tide gauges in contact with the sea surface and microwave radar systems mounted above the sea surface near the shore, show a relatively stable rate of sea level rise over a period of approximately 200 years. Recent satellite-based sea level rise measurements, taken over a period of approximately 23 years, also show a relatively stable rate of sea level rise, though at about twice the rate measured by the surface-based sensors. Again, the satellite measurements are far more comprehensive than the land-based measurements, though they might not be more accurate. 

(ii) Understanding Relationships and Resolving Differences

There are significant differences between the near-surface temperature anomalies and the satellite temperature anomalies. The reasons for these differences must be clearly understood, should the decision be made to abandon the near-surface temperature anomaly products in favor of the far more comprehensive satellite measurements.

There are significant differences between the surface sea level rise data and the satellite sea level rise data. The reasons for these differences must also be clearly understood, should the decision be made to abandon the land-based sea surface measurements in favor of the satellite measurements.

(iii) Determining the Correct Values of Climate Sensitivities and Climate Forcing Factors

The scenarios for future climate produced by the climate models are driven by data on the rate of increase of global atmospheric carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gas” concentrations and assumptions regarding the sensitivity of the climate to these increases. The climate models are also driven by assumptions regarding several other climate forcing factors. These sensitivities and forcing factors are not well understood, so climate modelers use a range of values in their model runs. The result is a range of potential future scenarios. It is not known whether any one of these scenarios is correct, or even if the actual future scenario falls within the range of scenarios output by the models.

Developing an accurate understanding of how the climate responds to human influences on the atmosphere requires determination of the actual climate sensitivity and the actual magnitude and direction of the forcing factors. This is a fundamental issue.

(iv) Verify a Single Climate Model Which Actually Models the Global Climate

There is currently no climate model which has been verified to accurately and comprehensively model the earth’s climate. Therefore, there is no climate model which can reasonably be expected to predict the future responses of the global climate. As a result, all of the climate research studies which are being used to create scenarios of various types of potential future climate catastrophes are highly speculative. These highly speculative studies are consuming significant climate research resources, to no demonstrably useful scientific purpose. Those resources could be used instead to improve the climate models; and, ultimately, to verify a single climate model.


It is clear that the science is hardly settled, since at least the above four fundamental issues remain unresolved. However, it appears that the practical politics have been settled, until very recently, largely in line with H. L. Menken’s perception.

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” H. L. Mencken

The national and international political class which has been driving and funding the climate change issue is desperately in need of some tough love and the imposition of some priorities to address fundamental issues, rather than continuing to fund the production of “hobgoblins”.