CO2 Is A Lousy Thermostat

NASA claims that CO2 “acts as a thermostat in regulating the temperature of Earth.

This is an easy theory to test by examining historical data. If CO2 was the thermostat, then a larger change in CO2 would necessarily manifest itself as a larger change in temperature. Periods of time when CO2 increased more rapidly would necessarily be followed by more rapid increases in temperature.

That is how a thermostat works. If you turn the setting up a lot, the temperature also increases a lot. Now to the data.

The first graph below shows the five year running mean of the rate of change of atmospheric CO2, by year since 1885. In 1945, the year over year change in CO2 was zero. In 2009, the year over year change was close to 2 ppm.

The next graph shows the five year running mean of the rate of change of temperature during the same period. The fastest increases in temperature (according to GISS) occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.

Now let’s look at the correlation between the two. If CO2 controls Earth’s temperature, then higher rates of CO2 growth should correlate with higher rates of temperature growth. The graph below plots the relationship out. ΔCO2 on the x-axis and ΔT on the Y-axis.

As you can see, the correlation is very poor. The slope is almost flat. The r^2 value is 0.06.

Looking at the Had Crut graph, this becomes obvious.The period from 1910-1940 had rapid warming, despite small increases in CO2. The period from 1940-1970 saw cooling, despite larger increases in CO2. The period from 1970-2000 saw about the same rate of temperature increase as 1910-1940, despite much higher CO2 growth.

Obviously, CO2 is not the thermostat.

And if CO2 is the thermostat, it is broken over the last 120 years. Why didn’t the authors perform this simple experiment before publishing?

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31 Responses to CO2 Is A Lousy Thermostat

  1. Amino says:

    I really am ashamed of NASA. Where is the NASA that made the world stand still to see a man take a step onto the Moon?

    But I know they are a government agency. The government wanted them to put a man on the moon. They did it. Now, the government wants global warming regulation, taxation, politics, etc., and NASA is helping them do it.

    So I think I should say I am ashamed of the government of the United States. As soon as the government of the United States changes and becomes glorious like it was in the past then NASA will follow and become glorious too, maybe more then when they put a man on the moon—

    that is, if the United States government ever becomes glorious again.

    “The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice.”

    ~~Alexander Solzhenitsyn

  2. Brendon says:

    Really dumb Steve and I’m sure this has been covered many times before.

    Several very obvious problems with your assumption of getting a direct correlation between CO2 levels and surface temps.
    1. CO2 is not the only cause of temperature change.
    2. Surface temps are dominated by natural fluctuations such as El Nino.
    3. The full effect of CO2 is not felt until equilibrium is reached. (an analogy is that a hot air ballon won’t instantly go to a new height the moment the burners are turned on, it takes the ballong a while to reach a new height).

  3. Brendon says:

    Steve I didn’t “select” anything so it’s kind of hard for me to cherry pick.

    As for your lack of trend. Big LOL there!!

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/The-CO2-Temperature-correlation-over-the-20th-Century.html

    • You are looking at the wrong metric T vs. CO2. Cooks graph shows only that CO2 and temperature are somewhat coincident.

      This article is about the first derivative dT/dCO2 – which is the metric that tests NASA’s thermostat theory.

      • Brendon says:

        Then you need to consider what I posted before.

        1. CO2 is not the only cause of temperature change.
        2. Surface temps are dominated by natural fluctuations such as El Nino.
        3. The full effect of CO2 is not felt until equilibrium is reached. (an analogy is that a hot air ballon won’t instantly go to a new height the moment the burners are turned on, it takes the ballong a while to reach a new height).

      • There is no indication of short term cycles in this data. It shows a complete lack of correlation over 120 years.

        It is complete BS to keep deferring the expected effects of CO2 into the future.

      • Brendon says:

        It is complete BS to expect to find that relationship in light of all I have mentioned.

        That you conduct poor analysis and do not subtract the other influences from the data is your own failing, not that of CO2.

  4. ChrisD says:

    The period from 1940-1970 saw cooling, despite larger increases in CO2. Obviously, CO2 is not the thermostat.

    No, what’s obvious is that CO2 isn’t the only thing that influences on climate (something that you guys just love to point out–except when it’s inconvenient, I guess). It it were, this post might make a little sense. But it isn’t.

    • There is no evidence to support the NASA claim in the GISS temperature record.

      • ChrisD says:

        There is also no evidence to refute it. You can neither support nor disprove the claim by simply looking at the temp and CO2 records in isolation.

      • LOL

        If someone claims a relationship between temperature and CO2, then that relationship must exist.

        You either look at the evidence, or rely on blind faith (otherwise known as GCMs.)

      • Amino says:

        ChrisD says:
        October 17, 2010 at 4:33 pm

        There is also no evidence to refute it.

        Where is the data that shows co2 controls climate? You believers act as if it real.

        Oh, there’s the ‘consensus’. But there is no consensus either.

        Oh, wait, there’s the 2500 scientists in the IPCC. But they aren’t all scientist. There are government policy makers among them. And among those that are scientists many don’t agree with the alarmism coming from the public statements of the IPCC. Only very few do. Very few is not a ‘consensus’.

      • Amino says:

        ChrisD says:
        October 17, 2010 at 4:33 pm

        There is also no evidence to refute it.

        Man dude, your head is in the sand.

      • Amino says:

        There is no consensus.

      • ChrisD says:

        Man dude, your head is in the sand.

        Wow, could you try any harder to miss the point?

        We’re talking about Steve’s graphs comparing CO2 and temperature. These two things taken in isolation cannot provide evidence to refute the relationship because there are, as you guys never tire of pointing out, other factors that influence climate. You can’t just point at the graph and say, “See, it’s not a straight line, therefore there’s no relationship” because you haven’t considered aerosols, changes in insolation, PDO/AMO, etc. etc. etc.

      • ChrisD says:

        Oh, there’s the ‘consensus’. But there is no consensus either.

        Is this on topic? I’m just asking. It’s a little hard to figure out exactly what you guys think is off topic.

      • Lazarus says:

        Steve
        “If someone claims a relationship between temperature and CO2, then that relationship must exist.”

        That much has been established over a century ago! There even do experiments that a school boy can follow;

        Click to access chapt3.pdf


        But why do you expect this to translate to a nice constant linear trend in the real world instead of the trend that scientists not only expect to find but do?

  5. leftymartin says:

    I really have to laugh at those who are now citing the likes of the ENSO cycle, the PDO, aerosols, and so forth as grounds for invalidating Steve’s post here. Simply put, here is the deal.

    1. Gavin and his pals declare, purely on the basis of a modeling exercise, and ONLY a modeling exercise, that CO2 is a thermostat, and in effect governs the water cycle, which is, on the basis of a purely ad hoc assumption, relegated to the role of a “fast feedback”.
    2. Gavin and his buddies make no mention of the likes of ENSO, PDO, aerosols, etc., not to mention internal climate variability and forcing (the mere existence of which they “deny”).
    3. Steve produces graphs of real world data that follow directly on from the “logic” of Gavin et al., to show their conclusion is quite simply preposterous. See Roy Spencers evisceration of this GISS-sponsored tripe, by the way. Skeptics (of the computerized climate augury brigades) have long maintained that there is vastly more to climate change than CO2, such as ENSO, PDO, aerosols, internal variability, oceanic cycles, solar effects (direct and indirect), and on and on and on…..
    4. The defenders of faith, seeing Steve’s post, cry foul, and invoke the various other mechanisms that more or less make Steve’s point, and are so bound up in intellectual contortionism they are unable to see it.
    5. I would suggest that the defenders of the faith perhaps put together a comment on Gavin et al and submit it to science – I think they are on to something here 🙂

    By the way, very nice post Steve.

    This Lacis et al. paper is simply bizarre.

    • Brendon says:

      The model takes a lot of parameters and comes out with a temperature.

      Steve takes the temperature then tries to derive a relationship back with just one of the input parameters.

      That’s always bound for failure.

      • I know, you guys prefer unverifiable predictions.

        In your religion, you aren’t even allowed to test the claimed relationship.

      • Brendon says:

        You can test it Steve, but you need to include all other factor which influence surface temp. You can’t just ignore them.

      • Do you understand the difference between a model and a correlation?

        I’m not trying to reproduce their model, rather I am testing their claimed correlation between temperature and CO2. The only two parameters I need for that test are temperature and CO2.

      • Brendon says:

        And before you will get a correlation, you need to subtract the other factors influencing temperature. CO2 is not the only thing to change the temperature.

  6. Brendon says:

    “Do you understand the difference between a model and a correlation?”

    Sure, and the advanced chapter covering inverse correlations. Let me give you an example. There’s an inverse correlation between the number of your posts and the quality of them.

    • Brendon,

      Try thinking this through. The Earth is the model. I am taking actual results from the actual Earth and seeing if temperature correlates with CO2.

      Gavin thinks his model is more realistic than reality. He is wrong.

      • Brendon says:

        “The Earth is the model. I am taking actual results from the actual Earth and seeing if temperature correlates with CO2.”

        The temperature you are looking at has many influences, CO2 is only one of those.

        He’s a thought experiment for you. Get 12 people at one end of a swimming pool and get them to splash and make waves.

        Now measure the waves at the other end of the pool. Now try to determine a relationship between the resulting wave, and the actions of just one of the people at the other end.

        Thats kind of what you are trying to do with CO2 and Temp.

        Now what I am saying is that if you knew the actions/effect of the other 11 people you could deduct that from the final wave to find out the effect and relationship that the remaining person has.

  7. Pingback: NASA Thermostat Paper – Part 3 | Real Science

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