Hot is the New Warm

Global Warming should be called Global Heating, says Key Scientist

is the headline to an article by Jonathan Watts in today’s Guardian. Watts is their science editor, the guy who used to be brought in with the mop and a cup of Horlicks when George Monbiot or one of the Graun’s other Environ-mentals had one of their funny turns. Not any more. Watts is at the Kratowice COP, gibbering with the best of them.

The key scientist quoted is Met Office Professor Richard Betts. We know Richard. He comments here sometimes. He’s the Good Scientist, the one who argues politely and corrects mistakes without a sneer. He apologised to me once at Bishop Hill for Saying Something Wrong on the Internet. A gentleman and a scholar. And a hero to come here at all.

Betts bats butts. Bots bite back

“Global heating is technically more correct because we are talking about changes in the energy balance of the planet,” the scientist said at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland. “We should be talking about risk rather than uncertainty.”

Should we? Well I’ve been following this story for twelve years or so. I’ve listened to twelve Gores a-bleeding,
eleven Hansens bleating,
ten Manns a-moaning,
nine Lews eluding,
eight Wards a-weeping,
seven Kevins searching,
six Gavins schmidting,
five (million) Graun Warnings,
four PMs,
three (thousand) Nobels,
two POTUS,
and My Lord Monck-ton of Bench-ley.

And I’m blowed if I’ve ever heard any of them (except the last) mention uncertainty. It’s risk all the way down with them. In what hideaway unknown to science does Richard Betts hear too much discussion of uncertainty? Is he spending too much time here at Cliscep?

I don’t know exactly what Professor Betts does at the Met Office – something to do with weather forecasting I expect. But I’m pretty sure his job description doesn’t involve correcting English usage. The difference between “warm” and “hot” is not something you can decide with a General Circulation Model, or even a thermometer. Although with the latter you can determine that temperatures have risen about half a degree in the past sixty years, the same rise I recorded this morning between 7and 8am.

On the other hand, average monthly temperature anomalies have fallen off a cliff, plunging half a degree in the past year or two, utterly wiping out a lifetime’s man-made global roasting. At this rate, Europe will be under a kilometre thick sheet of ice by 2030.

Phew! What a Brass Monkey’s Ballbreaker!

Earlier this month, the Met Office produced a new report that showed the searing heatwave that hit the UK this summer – along with other parts of the northern hemisphere – was made thirty times more likely by human-caused climate change

…whereas the contemporary cold spell that hit other parts of the world at the same time was made thirty times more unlikely. It’s like your annual Christmas game of Monopoly with granny, when you throw a double six first time, and you realise that it probably won’t happen again until 2054, when gran will be 112 and it’ll be roast turkey under the palm trees. Or raw woolly mammoth in the igloo. Whatever.

Betts said the shifting climate was pushing some natural processes – such as the blossoming of trees and laying of eggs – out of sync.

There’s something about this in Nostradamus, I’m sure: “When the oak shall lay eggs, and acorns shall come forth from the chicken’s bum, then the end of the world shall be nigh” or words to that effect.

“That’s already happening. We are also seeing higher temperatures of heatwaves. The kind of thing we saw this year will happen more often. The risks are compounding all the time. It stands to reason that the sooner we can take action, the quicker we can rein them in.”

Of course, nobody among the 30,000 delegates at Katowice bothered to ask what action would be needed to rein in the thirty times greater risk of a heatwave and get it down to —say—twenty nine times. How many plastic straws to be recycled, how many holiday flights to play Monopoly with gran to be cancelled? Only the Met Office computer can tell us.

Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said “cracks” were starting to appear in the climate system that were pushing nature from being a friend that absorbs carbon dioxide to an enemy that releases carbon dioxide.

Stockholm’s Rockström’s cracks: Hostile Plankton holds its Breath

His views were echoed by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a professor of theoretical physics and founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. He said his recent Hothouse Earth report, which was one of the most widely quoted and downloaded studies of this year, had helped to change the language used to describe the climate crisis. “Global warming doesn’t capture the scale of destruction. Speaking of hothouse Earth is legitimate,” he said.

There’s no Potsdam Prof that’s nicer
But how schwer the Kehr’ from warmer to heißer
Every time we say
“Goodbye. See you at COP26.”

Call it warm? Balmy, if you ask me.


  1. Betts is head of the climate impacts group. They extend Hadley’s climate model to include things that directly matter for humans, such as river flows, crop growth, and energy demand.

    As I argued in my master’s thesis of 1992, “heating” suggests agency while “warming” suggests that humans are a passive bystander.


  2. RICHARD TOL (14 Dec 18 at 10:19 am)

    “heating” suggests agency while “warming” suggests that humans are a passive bystander.

    Not in my cookbook. The distinction between “heating” and “warming” might work in English and German, but not in French, nor I think in Chinese. If you take their words which correspond to “lukewarm” or “warm enough” (“tiède” or 暖) and use them as a verb, you can’t tell whether the temperature is going up or down. You could call it “Global Turning Out Quite Nice.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Paradigm of fear, so much better for cli-sci-big-government-spending-incentivism than post -WW2-paradigm-of-gratitude-for-what-yr science-hath-wrought. Gratitude’s a poor payer, a-lack!

    H/t ter Professor Richard Lindzen paper, ‘Climate Science: Is it currently designed to answer questions?’



  4. RICHARD TOL (14 Dec 18 at 10:44 am)
    Science is independent of language, surely. UNEP publishes in five languages, (though we’re still waiting for the latest IPCC report in French.) If English and German scientists decide on a change of terminology which can’t be expressed in other official languages, where’s the science gone?

    We’ve already seen the IPCC decide that “global warming” means “anthropogenic global warming.” Was that decision ever overturned? Or are we still being told that up to 110% of man-made global warming is man-made?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m mystified. Richard is a scientist. He of all people should know that switching terminology from ‘warming’ to ‘heating’ will contribute nothing to the public understanding or perception of climate science (TM); indeed, it will only serve to further confuse the public, who will make very little distinction between heating and warming. Anyway, it isn’t ‘global warming’ anymore, it’s ‘climate change’!

    The strict scientific definition of ‘heat’ is the transfer of energy from a warmer to a colder object. As such, heat or heating is a process, as distinct from energy which is an absolute quantity. This implies that ‘global heating’ must therefore mean the transfer of energy from hotter to colder regions. Well, whaddya know, this has been happening for millions of years! The global circulation (winds/ocean currents) transfers solar energy from the tropics (hot) to the poles (cold). In so doing, we experience weather across the various regions of the planet. Thus I can’t really see how ‘global heating’ is more of an apt description for the the ‘heat trapping’ activities of GHGs (resulting in an hypothesised global energy imbalance) than global warming, the latter which at least sheds light upon the effect of energy being trapped by said GHGs. To then further expand upon this plea for a more ‘technically correct’ terminology by saying that we should be looking more at risk rather than uncertainty begs the question of whether Richard got enough sleep on the train to Poland! He’s on his way back now, so we can only hope that he catches up on some zzzz’s and normal service is resumed some time soon.


  6. Cycling the great climate crisis rebranding back to the “warm/hot” from “change” is an example of the marketing team churning the account.
    In only 30+ years of failed predictions combined with refusal to debate allegedly settled science the profits of doom find the need to make up yet another new name.
    As if Coke was rolling out New Coke 3.0 with the slogan, “This one’s a thing for real®!”
    So once again Official Climate Scientists declare under the Magisterium of the Climate Consensus a New©! Improved®! official name for the non-crisis existential threat that has been predicted to be only ten years away for the last 30 years.
    Meanwhile, the weather ignores the Consensus, life gets better despite the predictions of doom, and even nation’s that once embraced the consensus are starting to rethink this pile of transparently over hyped bs.

    Richard, thank you for your insight. What you are saying in effect is that even as far back as your days as a young grad student positioning and name identification/impact were important problems for the growth and health if the climate consensus. And it has apparently never actually worked very well. Hence the need to avoid real debate combined with renaming contests held so frequently.


  7. Richard Betts is in charge of marketing climate fear by focusing on scary predictions about things people care about, using sciencey sounds words and numbers.
    Pretending that every weather event and outcome is Proof! Of! Global Warming©/ Climate Change©/ Existential Threat ©/Global Heating©!!!!!!! Is really hard work. Repeating studies endlessly in slightly fresh ways in order to get new grant money for the constant derivative updates is exhausting.
    The only part of this tough job that is even harder is to ignore those pesky skeptics by pretending to study them and assign motives and labels to them.
    And Richard, you are hated even worse because you are not an unbeliever, but are actually questioning aspects of the consensus.
    That makes you a heretic.


  8. Instead of the 1.5C. 2C etc. ‘dangerous’ warming thresholds, currently estimated via surface temperature datasets) they’ll have to adopt a more ‘rigorous’ and technically appropriate global Ocean Heat Content threshold (measured in units of 10 to the power 22 Joules by 4600 or so Argo floats tasked with taking the temperature of water – to within an accuracy of about 0.01C I believe – in the entire world’s oceans from the surface to depths of 2000m), accurate enough to advise policy makers. What could possibly go wrong?


  9. Geoff:

    “It’s risk all the way down with them.”

    Albeit there is some narrative of risk, generally it’s much worse even than that. For many years, from whole rafts of authorities and influencers including the highest authorities on the planet (up until the exception of the current US admin), the narrative is about the *certainty* of imminent (decades) global climate catastrophe, absent drastic action. I.e. not merely risk of merely harm.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “As I argued in my master’s thesis of 1992, “heating” suggests agency while “warming” suggests that humans are a passive bystander”

    In which version of the English language is this true? For example, let’s take the version recorded by Merriam-Webster:

    To heat – the first definition of this verb used transitively is:

    “transitive verb

    1 : to make warm or hot
    heat a can of soup
    heat the oven to 350 degrees”

    To warm – the first definition of this verb used transitively:

    “1 : to make warm”

    Then there’s this recipe for a cup of tea from a cooking website

    “2. Start some milk warming over a low flame. Warm milk is not 100% necessary but it’s a really nice thing to do. I usually just warm it gently to avoid bringing it to a boil which is too hot for me.

    3. Warm the Pot. While the water is heating up, run the hottest water you can get from your faucet into your teapot and cover.”

    So far, so good – there is NO difference between the 2 verbs. But we know that economists like to use words such as “capacity”, “land” and “rent” in special ways and we are in the wacky para-scientific world of “climate science” where hockey sticks undulate and a tree in Siberia can tell me whether I would have got sunbunt in Brighton in December 1443….

    In my world, the thesis would have failed :))


  11. @man in a barrel
    It is good, so, that this was not the main point of my thesis.

    Precise and evocative wording is important, particularly if you take your jargon to outsiders. See the discussion about “wicked problems”. Political scientists have a particular definition of “wicked” that matches neither the common nor the colloquial meaning of the word.


  12. The distinction between “heating” and “warming” eludes me (so bags I be the first to say it’s existential) but can we not consesnse that Geoff’s piece is very funny? Many thanks.


  13. Geoff, you are correct about the emphasis on climate risk coming out of AR5.

    A new theme emerging out of the IPCC Fifth Report was the emphasis on selling the risk of man-made climate change. The idea is that scientists should not advocate policy, but do have a responsibility to convince the public of the risks resulting from burning fossil fuels.

    An article illustrates how this approach shapes recent public communications in support of actions on global warming/climate change. Treading the Fine Line Between Climate Talk and Alarmism (Op-Ed) By Sarah E. Myhre, Ph.D. | June 23, 2017. Excerpts:

    “What is our role in public leadership as scientists? I would suggest a few action items: Work to reduce risk and cost for the public; steward the public’s interest in evidence; and be steady and committed to the scientific process of dissent, revision and discovery. This means communicating risk when necessary. We would never fault an oncologist for informing patients about the cancer risks that come with smoking. Why would we expect Earth scientists to be any different, when we’re just as certain?”

    Of course, the comparison between smoking and climate change is a favorite of activists, and the way the danger was extended to secondhand smoke is also part of the play book. I went into this, and also other problems with the inestimable Sarah Myhre.

    Liked by 1 person

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