What is Climate? Is it Changing?

Updates October 27 below

Thanks Arnd for another provocative comment.

EXXON, as many others, deserve no regret when „charged with all kinds of misdoing with respect to climate science“. EXXON’s fault is not strongly opposing a meaningless language with regard what ‘climate’ is.Full Comment is here:

Dr. Bernaerts raises a number of issues and goes into some depth at his website, especially this page.

I am prompted by this to respond with three points.

1. Climate Alarmism Depends on Equivocation

There is something like a lawyer’s frustration in Dr. Bernaerts’ writing about climate. It is customary in a legal document for the first section to define all the terms, and then in later sections to respect those definitions in making arguments. He is right to criticize climate science for lacking such discipline.

Going further, it can be said that the anti-fossil fuel movement is built upon equivocation. That is a fallacy in which the meaning of a word changes in the course of a logical argument, so that a change of subject occurs in a hidden way. Alarmists frequently refer to CO2 as “carbon pollution” when the harmless trace gas is essential to life in the biosphere. A slight change of ocean pH toward 7.0 is called acidification. And so on with assertions that climate will cause all kinds of catastrophic weather: extra rain in wet places, drought in dry places, melting glaciers, sea level rises, destructive storms, etc. Much is made of the “greenhouse gas effect” to raise concerns about CO2, without acknowledging that H2O is by far the most important IR active gas in the atmosphere.

Without obfuscation, there would be no cause for alarm or for 40,000 people to gather at the Paris COP.

2. Climate Itself is a Human Construct.

Andrew John Herbertson, a British geographer and Professor at Oxford, wrote in a textbook from 1901:

By climate we mean the average weather as ascertained by many years’ observations. Climate also takes into account the extreme weather experienced during that period. Climate is what on an average we may expect, weather is what we actually get.

Mark Twain, who is often credited with that last sentence actually said:

Climate lasts all the time and weather only a few days.

The point is, weather consists of events occurring in real time, while climate is a statistical artifact. Weather is like a baseball player swinging in the batter’s box, climate is his batting average, RBIs, bases on balls, etc.

In a previous post, The Climates, They are A-changing, I wrote about seasonal climate change, which farmers in a place like Canada rely on to plan their planting and harvesting, knowing their actual activities may be earlier or later depending on this year’s weather. Meanwhile in equatorial zones, like the Caribbean or Tahiti, the seasons shift between wet and dry, rather than hot and cold. Of course, even the notion of years divided into named months is human imagination imposed over nature.

In other words weather is natural events while climate is a pattern imposed by humans upon the weather. And so, to speak of “climate change’ is engaging in a double abstraction: the derivative (change) in our expectations (patterns) of weather.

When the anti-fossil fuel movement began, it was at least honest in its claim of Global Warming. That assertion has some content to it: an expectation that future temperatures will be higher than the past. And climate models were built to project those rising temperatures as an effect from rising CO2. Once people noticed the exaggeration of those projections compared to observations, the issue was renamed “climate change”, with the advantage that any weather can then be cited as proof.

3. Weather is the Climate System at work.

Another distortion is the notion that weather is bad or good, depending on humans finding it favorable. In fact, all that we call weather are the ocean and atmosphere acting to resolve differences in temperatures, humidities and pressures. It is the natural result of a rotating, irregular planetary surface mostly covered with water and illuminated mostly at its equator.

When activists say that climate change causes more or worse storms, they are obfuscating. Climate is the result of weather, not the cause. What they really mean to say: “The climate system has changed because of our burning fossil fuels, and the weather will be worse for us.”

That statement is plainly ridiculous as Dr. Ball has illustrated:


Update 1

In the comments below both ElCore and Frederick Colbourne helpfully emphasize an important aspect of this topic: namely that humans invented “climate” in order to describe local realities. Climate is not global, it is local and even micro in its uniqueness.

Some years ago Roger Pielke Sr. did excellent research on a set of weather stations in Colorado to investigate a strange phenomenon. The regional average from the 11 stations did not reflect any of the individual records that went into the calculation. The study linked below showed that numerous differences in the landscapes at each site meant that temperature and precipitation measurements differed significantly from one to the other, even when located a few kms apart. Not only absolute differences, such as altitude would create, but also the trends of changes differed due to terrain features. Thus the averages are not descriptive of any of the local realities. In my studies of temperature trends, I took Pielke findings to heart and focused on the pattern of change observed in each specific site.

The paper is available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/joc.706/abstract

Update 2

Thanks to smamarver for reminding me of a pertinent quote from Dr. Bernearts

It seems Dr. Bernaerts struggles with this question since long, writing a letter to the Editor of NATURE 1992, “Climate Change”, Vol. 360, p. 292; http://www.whatisclimate.com/1992-nature.html:
“SIR – The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the earlier struggle for a Convention on Climate Change may serve as a reminder that the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea has its tenth anniversary on 10 December. It is not only one of the most comprehensive and strongest international treaties ever negotiated but the best possible legal means to protect the global climate. But sadly, there has been little interest in using it for this purpose. For too long, climate has been defined as the average weather and Rio was not able to define it at all. Instead, the Climate Change Convention uses the term ‘climate system’, defining it as “the totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere and their interactions”. All that this boils down to is ‘the interactions of the natural system’. What is the point of a legal term if it explains nothing? For decades, the real question has been who is responsible for the climate. Climate should have been defined as ‘the continuation of the oceans by other means’. Thus, the 1982 Convention could long since have been used to protect the climate. After all, it is the most powerful tool with which to force politicians and the community of states into actions.”


  1. craigm350 · October 26, 2015

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News.


  2. omanuel · October 26, 2015

    The AGW story helped us look for the evidence behind other consensus models.


  3. Pingback: What Is Climate? Is It Changing? | NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT
  4. ELCore (@OneLaneHwy) · October 27, 2015

    Thank you for this.

    I have been thinking about the equivocation about “climate”, and I have noticed that the climate establishment has reduced climate to temperature. I have started to think about it along these lines:

    I live in Pennsylvania. In the 1960s, summers got hot and winters got cold, and it warmed up in Spring and cooled down in Fall. Some summers got hotter than others, and some winters got colder than others. In Spring, the trees grew new leaves; in Fall, the trees shed their leaves; and, many kinds of birds migrated into or out of the area in those seasons. Some years, Spring weather got an earlier or later start (or end); some years, Fall weather got an earlier or later start (or end). Some years or seasons were wetter than most, and some years or seasons were drier than most. The weather usually came from the West: in Summer, more from the Southwest; in Winter, more from the Northwest. Rarely, a hurricane (or its remains) would dump buckets of rain everywhere; rarely, too, a tornado would briefly touch down somewhere. In Spring, people were able to plant vegetable gardens and flowers; later, they could enjoy the produce and blooms; in Fall, they would turn the gardens over, and could burn or throw out the dead flowers. In Summer, people could water ski; in Winter, they could snow ski. As far as we know, that’s what the climate has been in Pennsylvania for several thousands of years. And after a half-century of man-made “climate change”, that’s what it is now, too.

    According to the Trewartha Climate Classification system, the climate in Pennsylvania is Dca: temperate continental with hot summers. I have found that some knowledge of this system, or Knoppen’s, is very helpful in clearing out the confusion engendered by climate “scientists”.


  5. Frederick Colbourne · October 27, 2015

    When we studied climate at university we learned that climate was defined by the Koppen and Thornthwaite systems. Trewartha later modified the Koppen system.

    All of these systems classified the regions of the world by their precipitation and temperature regimes. Thornthwaite later added evapo-transpiration.

    As I understood these systems, while they used numbers to set geographical boundaries, all approaches were essentially qualitative. There was no claim that climatic regions were precisely bounded or fixed or that they existed in nature as real entities.

    (Either that, or I myself was an “entity realist” way back then, and was not a “theory realist”.)

    My professor asserted in 1958 that the Earth’s climates had not changed since the Holocene Climatic Optimum (the hypsithermal) around 5000 to 6000 years ago. I did not believe my professor because I had already concluded that prehistoric and historic population movements were driven by cyclic changes in climate. I had formed this opinion from reading the climate theories of V. Gordon Childe. (I knew nothing of Childe’s political theories.)

    Today when we study paleoclimate, we learn that climate has varied throughout the Holocene, the warm periods noted as times of prosperity and cultural development, the cool periods noted as time of misery and cultural decline. (Hubert Lamb has described historical periods. Rys Carpenter described the impact of climate change on Greek civilization. Discontinuity in Greek civilization, 1968.)

    We are lacking a theory to define “climate”. We can define precipitation and temperature. These are real entities that can be measured. But “climate” seems to be a mere convention. French geographers recognized this by referring to the “personality” of a region, that included its climate.

    The IMO (International Meteorological Organization) settled on the “average weather during 30 years”, probably because the world’s scientists could not agree on anything else. As we know now, 60 years or 100 years would be a better choice because at least one dominant oceanic oscillation has a period of around 60 years and the Gleissberg solar cycle is around 90 to 100 years.

    If we accept the longer period, we would still not know what we mean by “climate”, but at least we would recognize that 30 years of observations probably reveal only the upward slope of a natural warming section of a wave that will reach a peak and then decline naturally in a cooling section of 30 years.

    What goes up, then goes down. As J. P. Morgan remarked about the stock market, climate will fluctuate.

    Whatever we mean by “global climate” to assert that climate is “changing” in the direction of warming, we would have to show (1) that the rate of warming is outside the bounds of what we might expect from natural causes and (2) that warming will continue to increase beyond those bounds.

    In my opinion, the first of these criteria has not been fulfilled and the second will take at least 60 years more to reveal itself.

    My study of climate during 50 years or so leads me to believe that natural climate drivers are more important than human drivers.

    When the natural forces that drive climate are discovered, the belief in catastrophic anthropogenic warming will be rejected quickly, though perhaps not as quickly as the belief in fixed continents 60 years ago when plate tectonics began to be developed to explain earthquakes, volcanoes and mountain-building.

    Believe it or not,: before 1960 neither geologists nor geophysicists knew what caused mountain building, earthquakes or volcanoes. We had to memorize and apply a Wernerian theory of isostasy that was obviously non-physical.

    Shakespeare expressed this very well,

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
    – Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio


    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Clutz · October 27, 2015

      Thanks for your comment and comprehensive review. As I said in the post, the only “climate change” going on is people expecting future temperatures can only be warmer, cooling is not an option for them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • ArndB · October 27, 2015

        RE: Frederick Colbourne ·
        Interesting to hear the view on ‘climate’ from someone who studied Earth’s climates in the 1950s, when the verdict of the IMO (International Meteorological Organization) in the early 1930s that “climate = average weather during 30 years” was understood to cover the previous three decades. The 30 years are still mentioned, the reference period in the early last Century not. That this could hardly be regarded as any useful achievement is indicated in the following two citations:

        __Opinion 1969: “Only thirty years ago climatology was generally regarded as the mere dry-as-dust bookkeeping end of meteorology.”
        H.H. Lamb, Meteorological Office Bracknell, Berkshire (UK), “The New Look of Climatology”, NATURE, Vol. 223, September 20, 1969, pp.1209ff;

        __Opinion 1979: “This is obviously the decade in which climate is coming into its own. You hardly heard the word professionally in the 1940s. It was a layman’s word. Climatologists were the halt and the lame. And as for the climatologists in public service, in the British service you actually, had to be medically disabled in order to get into the climatological division! Climatology was a menial occupation that came on the pecking scale somewhat below the advertising profession. It was clearly not the age of climate.“
        F. Kenneth Hare, 1979; „The Vaulting of Intellectual Barriers: The Madison Thrust in Climatology“, Bulletin American Meteorological Society , Vol. 60, 1979, p. 1171 – 1124

        ‘Climate’ as used by science is merely a statistical tool, and many statistics do not make ‘weather’. Neither of the two leading meteorologists at their time recognized the need to say what “weather” is in the first place, nor IMO. WMO or climate science since. This is indicated in the kind 2nd Update (above) for which my thanks go to ‘smamarver’ and Ron Clutz.


      • Ron Clutz · October 27, 2015

        Thanks Arnd, That quote from Kenneth Hare is devastating.


  6. ArndB · October 27, 2015

    Ron, highly appreciating for picking up my complain about the way science define CLIMATE, and your reference to the enlightening recent writing by Dr. Ball is stimulation for further digging.

    Tim Ball puts the emphasis to much on water vapour, discussing AGW and “climate change” on the basis that the “earth is flat”. He cites a number of IPCC statements, for example:
    __”However , the amount of water in the atmosphere is controlled mostly by air temperature, reather than by emissions.
    __ “Additional water vapour is injected into the atmosphere from anthropogenic activities, mostly through increased evaporation from irrigated crops, but also through power plant cooling, and marginally through the combustion of fossil fuel.
    __ “The flux of water vapour into the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources is considerable less than from ‘natural’ evaporation.

    Not one word about the constant huge water and heat injection of the oceans toward the atmosphere. That happens every second, day and night, from the equator to the Polar areas, highly controlled by the current state of the sea water column, like water temperature, salinity, wind, current etc.. There is no such thing as “natural evaporation”, and it is simply wrong when IPCC, with regard to the atmosphere, says: “The maximum amount of water vapour in the air is controlled by temperature”, without stressing that sea water temperature etc.is a major vapour contributor and controller.. .

    Although it is a nice picture saying “Water vapor is the giant wet elephant in the IPCC laboratory”, it seems more adequate to denote that the oceans is the wet elephant with regard to water vapour, and IPCC is blind in this respect. The earth is more than a flat platform.


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