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Climate change fears driven by a belief in an imaginary temperature

By Tom Harris
web posted January 22, 2024


It seems that not a day goes by when we don't hear about skyrocketing "global temperature." The problem is—global temperature doesn't exist.

Yet Bing AI reports:

"According to my search, there were about 1,820,000 results for "global temperature" in the media from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2023. This means that the phrase was referenced on average about 182,000 times per year, or 500 times per day, in the past ten years."

Of course, governments, the United Nations and even some scientists also use the term often, hyping meaningless records in an imaginary parameter in order to frighten us about something that doesn't matter.

Climate activists venture even further into the realm of unscientific fantasy chanting "1.5 to stay alive," meaning that we must prevent the "global temperature" from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (oC) above pre-industrial levels or we are all doomed. But the so-called "global temperature," at least the way the UN calculates this make-believe parameter, has already risen 1.2 oC since pre-industrial times. Only a climate hypochondriac would think that a further 0.3oC rise would be noticeable, let alone catastrophic.

Unknown to most of the public, and indeed many scientists who should know better, is the fact that "global temperature" or "global average temperature" or even "global temperature anomaly" is not real. It is merely a statistic that, outside of politics, has no meaning in the real world.

In their award-winning book, "Taken By Storm," Canadian researchers Christopher Essex and Ross McKitrick explain,

"Temperature is not an amount of something [like height or weight]. It is a number that represents the condition of a physical system. In thermodynamics it is known as an intensive quantity, in contrast to quantities like energy, which have an additive property, which we call extensive in thermodynamics."

For example, a person's height is an extensive quality; it can be added to other people's heights to give a meaningful result, namely the total height of all the people involved if they laid head to toe on the floor. Dividing that total height by number of people gives the mean height, or the average height of the people in the group. The same applies to weight and other extensive qualities. We can combine two or more systems and the values of extensive variables for the whole system will simply be the sum of the values of the individual components.

But this does not apply to intensive qualities like density, pressure, chemical potential, color, viscosity, concentration and, of course, temperature, none of which can be added up in any meaningful fashion. Intensive variables are independent of system size and represent a quality of the system. And, if you can't generate a physically meaningful answer when you add them up, how can you end up with a meaningful answer when you divide the total by the number of measurements? You can't.

Let's say, at a particular moment in time, you measure 1,000 temperatures, ranging from 0oC (or, in the absolute temperature scale used in science, 273 degrees Kelvin, oK) to 20 oC (293 oK) at 1,000 different locations. Adding them yields a number, perhaps 283,000. That means nothing of course. There is no place or thing that measures 283,000 oK. So, how can you take that meaningless number and divide it by a meaningful number (1,000, the number of temperature measurements) and generate a meaningful result? In fact, that is a test that reveals whether measurements can generate a meaningful average; does the intermediate sum mean anything?

In the final analysis, it is no more meaningful to calculate an average temperature for a whole planet, or even a state or a city (or even a room in your house), than it is to calculate the "average phone number" in the telephone directory of a city. If you called that "average phone number," would you be in touch with the average citizen? Individual telephone numbers are useful and meaningful, while the sum or average of the telephone numbers in a directory have no meaning. Similarly, temperature, like viscosity and density, is not something that can be meaningfully averaged. "Global temperature" does not exist.

Even if enough accurate surface temperature measurements existed to ensure reasonable planetary coverage (it doesn't) and some sort of global temperature statistic was calculated, interpreting its significance would be challenging. What averaging rule would you use to handle the data from thousands of temperature-sensing stations? Mean, mode, median, root mean square? Science does not tell us. For some groups of close temperature measures (and NASA and NOAA are dealing with thousands of very close temperatures across a huge temperature field that varies from -93.22 oC (the low temperature record, detected by satellite observations on August 10, 2010 along a ridge in Antarctica) to +56.7 oC (the high temperature record, observed on July 10, 1913 in Death Valley), one method of calculating an average can lead to a determination of warming while another can lead to a conclusion of cooling.

In 2007, an important paper written by Essex, McKitrick and Bjarne Andresen was published in the Journal of Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics. Titled, "Does a Global Temperature Exist?" the authors give examples of how different averaging methods can show a system is both warming and cooling at the same time. They point out, however,

"The notion of being globally ''hotter'' or ''colder'' for out-of-equilibrium systems [the Earth is obviously "out-of-equilibrium" which is why we have variable weather] is not altogether without merit. Miami in January, with temperatures ranging from 20 to 30oC, say, is certainly warmer than Toronto at, say, -15 to -5oC. However, this ranking of relative warmth is not based on averages, but on the ranges [my bold] in respective temperature fields. Since the ranges do not overlap, all averages will agree which field seems to be the warmer. It is independent of the choice of average.

"Not so for the case of comparisons of Earth's temperature field at times a few years apart. The range over the globe (about -80oC to +40oC) is essentially the same for both when compared to statistical trends in averages (i.e., about +/-0.01oC/year), which are three orders of magnitude smaller. In cases where ranges overlap, not all averages over a given set of actual observations agree on trends, throwing into doubt for this case what 'warmer' or 'cooler' means."

Essex, McKitrick and Andresen come to three critical conclusions:

  • "Sums or averages over the individual temperatures in the field are not temperatures. Neither are they proxies for internal energy."
  • The utility of any global spatial average of the temperature field as an index for global conditions has been presumed but not demonstrated."

"In private communications, Dr. Christopher Essex, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Western Ontario, summed up today's preoccupation with "global temperature" well: "The idea that a single local state variable (i.e., temperature) drives everything is breathtakingly naive."

  • "If there are no physical or pragmatic grounds for choosing one over another, and one increases while the other decreases, there is no basis for concluding that the atmosphere as a whole is either warming or cooling."

So, how can we tell if a system, in this case, the Earth, is warming or cooling? You cannot, unless the range of temperatures at different times change so much that they do not overlap. There is no chance of that occurring anytime in the foreseeable future on this planet, so confident pronouncements of global warming in the past century are entirely misguided. We have no way of knowing if "global warming" is real since we have nothing meaningful to base it on.

Governments must stop wasting trillions of taxpayer dollars trying to stop a climate crisis that no one knows actually exists. The world has real problems to solve. ESR

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC) at Please share this article and support ICSC through its GiveSendGo crowdfunding webpage at GiveSendGo - THERE IS NO CLIMATE EMERGENCY!: The Leader in Freedom Fundraising.


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