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Has the climate debate turned into a horror scenario because
climate means anything and nothing?
John Locke: “The achievement of human knowledge is often hampered by the use
of words without fixed signification” British philosopher, 1632-1704.
For years, one can hear it daily. Climate change is the greatest threat facing our world. Few declare the debate as hoax, like U.S. President Donald Trump, others regard it as real, respectively as an issue that affects the whole of humanity, the future of humans depending on it. As long as only the rise of local or global air temperature is viewed, this is certainly correct. But that is rarely the case. Overwhelmingly all refer primarily to a threat by climate change, which is a distinct issue from a rise of air temperatures. Indiscriminating use of both term simultaneously is a fretful failure, leading to misinformation, disguising, and, if intentionally, a gross delusion. In the way science has been using the word climate over the last decades, the general public and politics is misguided since long. The reason is that science has been incapable to demonstrate that they understand what climate is, and able to define the terms they work with. Actually they use a layman term, broadly understood as average weather (for example the summer season in Florida), as greatest threat facing our world by calling it “climate change”. That is irresponsible and in an objective sense delusion. Let’s have a look at the term climate as used by science and climatology.
The misery of the climate discussion already arises with the statement: Weather is not Climate. There are many various around, but topped by a title/sub-title in scientificamerican (Sept.04,2018) saying: “Don’t Be Fooled: Weather Is Not Climate. But climate affects weather, [respectively]: Weather is affected by climate”. There is also the following quote:
Summing up the distinction between short-term changes in the weather and long term climate trends ……, Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, President of the American Meteorological Society, used nine simple words: “weather is your mood and climate is your personality.”
Nothing is explained with such comments. They cause confusion and are nothing more than babble. That stems from the fact that weather is a physical state of the atmosphere, and climate merely the numerical statistic of numerous aspects of this state. While the former situation exists for a very short moment only, never repeating again, the latter is a huge amount of numbers and can never convert to weather again. It is therefore horrible when it is said: climate affects weather. How can any statistic influence the physical condition of the atmosphere?
Unfortunately, this is not just a slip-up, but runs through all the definitions that science uses for weather and climate. Since modern climatology claims to be abler to advise the general public and governments on climate change since about the 1980s, their ability to formulate what they are talking about was remote, if existing at all. Let’s start in 1992, before discussing briefly the background of the term: climate.
In 1992, the Rio Conference adopted the UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE, UNFCCC. Although the word climate is included in the title, the convention offers not any explanation at all. Similar shocking is not to realize that if one wants to explain “climate change” that it is a paramount condition to say what the subject of change shall be. This nonsense is topped when saying: “‘Climate change’ means a change of climate…” (More details see Fig. left). According the Dictionary of GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE (1992) by W. John Mauder, (pp. 240):
Climate is the synthesis of the day-to-day weather conditions in a given area. The actual climate is characterized by long-term statistics (such as mean values, variances, probabilities of extreme values) of the state of the atmosphere in that area, or of the meteorological elements in that area (more Fig. 2). [W.J. Mauder – New Zealand – was for many years Vice- and President of the WMO Commission for Climatology].
This definition is in no way a substitute for the gap left by the UNFCCC. Even the quality of the first sentence can be questioned, as subsequently “actual climate”, and other issues mentioned.
IPCC – Climate
The most proeminent institutions on climate are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the American Meteorological Society (AMC). Today they have both lengthy glossaries with more than 12,000 terms (AMS), or over 52 pages (IPCC) respectively. Remarkable – they are both concerning the term climate. On one hand, they differ extremely from each other. On the other hand, each text on climate is at best a joke as an academically reasonable definition. They are both useless in the field of scientific work, and of such big lack of clarity that they undermine any fair and explanatory communication between the general public and politics.
The IPCC definition starts with the confession that there is no better idea than to repeat the layman expression since ancient times: climate is average weather. (see Fig. 3). At least one would assume that the IPCC Glossary would tell the reader now what is weather, or how average weather is defined, but the Glossary is completely silent on it. The subsequent attempt to describe climate (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, can only be called as naive. What “terms of the mean and variability” shall be used? What are relevant quantities? The text of the definition lose any ability as a working tool, when the so called ‘classical period’ 30 years is replace by a range ‘from months to thousands or millions of years’. Such a definition is completely useless, which commence with the use of the word weather, which is primarily an individual impression and experience of any person alive, and there are many.
Back in 1987 the WMO Bulletin published the following definition (Fig. 4):
Climate is the statistical probability of the occurrence of various states of the atmosphere over a given region during a given calendar period;
Weather is the state of the atmosphere over one given region during one given period (minute, hour, day, month, season, year, decade, etc.).
See: Conclusions (p.295); by W. J. GIBBS, October 1987, WMO Bulletin, Vol. 36, Page 290-295,
From the many ambiguities the text has, the most obvious is that ‘weather’ shall also comprise the state of the atmosphere over years and decades. What demonstrates better than anything else that the author did not understand what he was talking about? See the Fig. 5, 6, & 7.
The First IPCC Report, June 1990, didn’t made any use of the WMO publication five years earlier, but in the Introduction (p. vii) merely said:
___A simple definition of climate is the average weather.
___A description of climate over a period (which may typically be from a few years to a few centuries) involves the averages of appropriate components of the weather over that period, together with the statistical variations of those components.
___The driving force for weather and climate is energy from the Sun.
Although there is frequently a reference to weather, the Introduction (as presumably the entire Report, total pages 365) offers nothing, as the current IPCC Glossary. In the published edition by J.T. Houghton et al, 1990, Cambridge University Press the cited text is on page xxxv & xxxvi.
Almost 30 years later, nothing has changed for better. A layman term was abused to scare the public than, while no effort was spared to increase the pressure ever since.
For more, see the following discussion about AMS definition on climate and weather.
AMS – Climate & Weather
The AMS Glossary offers a different approach. The definition begins with the sentence: “climate is the slowly varying aspects of the atmosphere–hydrosphere–land surface system”, see full text Fig. 8. It is all the Glossary tells about the meaning of climate. It is virtually impossible to make any sense out of it. A definition of ‘nature’ could go equally. All that this boils down to is ‘the interactions of the natural system’,
see: Letter to the Editor, NATURE 1992, Vol. 360, p. 292
The subsequent sentence no longer refers to climate, but to the ‘climate system’ a term “typically characterized in terms of suitable averages over periods of a month or more”, which is separately defined as:
The system, consisting of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere, determining the earth’s climate as the result of mutual interactions and responses to external influences (forcing).
Physical, chemical, and biological processes are involved in the interactions among the components of the climate system.
Also the next about 70 words contribute little to make the term a reliable asset. The only interesting aspect is, that the AMS climate definition back off using such terms as ‘average weather’, ‘statistical description’, or ‘relevant quantities’, but explains nothing, and says practically the same as the explanation of the ‘climate system’.
But different from IPCC the AMS Glossary defines weather (Fig. 9). Interesting that the first paragraph confirms what was already said above, that weather is “primarily an individual impression and experience”, namely:
WEATHER is „The state of the atmosphere, mainly with respect to its effects upon life and human activities.”
But the definition runs afoul and inconsistently immediately when the next two sentences state:
As distinguished from climate, weather consists of the short-term (minutes to days) variations in the atmosphere.
Question: Where is the 1st and 2nd sentence compatible?
Popularly, weather is thought of in terms of temperature, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, visibility, and wind.
Question: What has this distraction (popularly) to do in a scientific definition? On the other hand, it
confirms that also “weather” is primarily a layman term.
How inconsequently also the AMS weather definition has been drafted comes to light if it describes that
The “present weather” table consists of 100 possible conditions, with 10 possibilities for “past weather”; both are encoded numerically.
This shows evidently that also AMS has no definition of weather, but uses the word as it fits best. Five conditions here, 12 conditions there and thereon called climate. But weather is weather and cannot consist one time of 100 conditions, and if convenient for making a case consist of 3 conditions. Not surprisingly “future weather” is not mentioned.
Climate is a layman term – A short background
The concept of climate can be found in Greece in fifth century BC. To Hippocrates of Kos (~460 – ~370 BC) it comprised airs, waters, places associates season, prevailing winds, and the quality of the air and water with the physical condition of people. The earliest notions of ‘klimat’ were linked to sun inclination, and latitude. Over 2000 years the term climate is a solid public domain. Like weather, the word reflects a general impression. People not necessarily like to talk about climate and weather, but need to find out, which issues are needed to have an informative conversation, e.g. temperature, sun shine, rain, wind, etc. In countries with quickly changing weather conditions, as in Western Europe, the talks on weather are more intensive and lengthy, as in the Sahara with little changes. It is more abstract when merely seasonal conditions for a holiday abroad, for example in Morocco in May is of interest, commonly called climate.
During the last several century philosophers, writers and researchers used the term climate as well. For example the German naturalist and geographer A. von Humboldt (1769 –1859) defined climate as “all the changes in the atmosphere that perceptibly affect our organs”. But none could be called a climatologist, as that term came into use only well after World War II. At best the term ‘climate’ existed in the layman’s way. The preface of the book by V. Conrad (1946): Methods in Climatology. Harvard University Press; pages 228, states in the first and last paragraph (p. vii):
Climate influences the surface of the earth, and this conversely, in its conditions. This intimate mutual connection makes climatology and climatography appear as parts of geography, because they are essentially necessary to describe the surface of the earth and its changes. These ideas find their expression in the fact that generally the colleges and universities, climatology as a whole is treated in the geographical departments. Perhaps the dependent role of climatology may be attributed also to the fact that geographers have so greatly furthered this science.
The general introduction presents climatology as a world science, and its international organization. The number of observations in the meteorological register makes the necessity of statistical methods evident.
Until the end of the 1940s, only the number of observations and statistical methods were of interest. Prominent meteorologist confirmed few decades later, that the term climate was rarely used
H.H. Lamp (Nature, Vol. 223, 1969): Only thirty years ago climatology was generally regarded as the mere dry-as-dust bookkeeping end of meteorology.
Definitions of climate and climatology have varied. That (still widely) definition of climate as “average weather” must surely be regarded as quite inadequate. Climate comprises the totality of weather experienced at a given place.
Kenneth Hare, (Bulletin American Meteorological Society, Vol. 60, 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.
Meanwhile efforts are made to present climate and climatology as a long standing interest of science, at least for the last 150 years. For example Roger G. Barry (in Int. J. Climatol., Vol. 33, 2013), is saying: “The term climate has a 600-year history, but only came into widespread use about 150 years ago.” The crux with such a statement is, that the entire assessment is based on the layman term: “climate is average weather”, which is “surely quite inadequate” as H.H. Lamp observed back in 1969 (see above). But still in 2019 IPCC rely on it (Fig. 3), and AMS evade this point by talking instead of the ‘climate system’, see discussion above and Fig. 4.
What should be the conclusion? A science which is not able to define in a clear and understandable manner, what they are talking about, does not deserve being recognized as a competent academic discipline.
The use of words that are of ’emotional importance’ to the public must be clear, reasonable, and comprehensible. Otherwise, there is a danger that it may come to an objective deception. The debate on climate change does not meet John Locke (1632-1704) requirement of using only terms with “fixed signification”.
Is there a solution? Yes, by recognizing that the ocean is the base of the weather,
while sticking to the fact that any statistic always remains a statistic!
If one regards the words weather and climate primarily as an individual impression and experience of any person, respectively of emotional importance to the public, one should leave it in the public domain. Furthermore it seems most unlikely, that the terms can reasonably define in an academic manner, which would require a wording that does not mix-up with any layman understanding. But if the term Climate shall be used, not the weather but the oceans must be the centerpiece of the definition.
Already back in 1984 J. D. Woods explained the role of the ocean in the planetary system (excerpts):
Approximately 80% of solar energy intercepted by our planet enters the atmosphere over the oceans. About 50% of this energy flux reaches the bottom of the atmosphere after 25% has been reflected by, and 19% absorbed in the atmosphere. Neglecting atmosphere bias between continental and ocean regions, the oceans receive 40%, and the continents 10% of the intercepted energy. …The ocean is the principal initial receipiet of energy entering the planetary climate system….
Almost all of this radiative flux into the ocean is absorbed in the top 100 m. (cont,//) [in The Global Climate, Cambridge (Uni.Press), 1984, p. 142.]¸ see also Fig. 10
The ultimate source in the planetary scenario is water, of which is only a very small percentage in the atmosphere. At any moment, the atmosphere contains only the amount of water, which would cover the entire surface of the Earth (land and ocean) with as little rain as one inch (2,5 cm) only. The water volume of the ocean is 1000 times bigger, and has only a mean temperature of about +4° Celsius. The huge stability of the oceans over long periods of time is amazing, but even minor change in current status of the ocean, will make the rising air temperature discussion any greenhouse discussion looking much too narrow. It is high time that any definition in this respect needs to acknowledge that the current and future planetary weather system depends on the oceans, or briefly: Oceans Govern Climate.
“Conditions for the protection of the global climate”,
1992, p.53 presented at GKSS Research Center Geesthacht