Issues & Insights

‘Global Temperature’ — Why Should We Trust A Statistic That Might Not Even Exist?

I&I Editorial

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is quite certain Earth will be in trouble if the global temperature exceeds pre-industrial levels by 1.5 degrees Celsius or more. But how can anyone know? According to university research, “global temperature” is a meaningless concept.

“Discussions on global warming often refer to ‘global temperature.’ Yet the concept is thermodynamically as well as mathematically an impossibility,” says Science Daily, paraphrasing Bjarne Andresen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute, one of three authors of a paper questioning the “validity of a ‘global temperature.'”

Science Daily explains how the “global temperature” is determined.

“The temperature obtained by collecting measurements of air temperatures at a large number of measuring stations around the globe, weighing them according to the area they represent, and then calculating the yearly average according to the usual method of adding all values and dividing by the number of points.”

But a “temperature can be defined only for a homogeneous system,” says Andresen. The climate is not regulated by a single temperature. Instead, “differences of temperatures drive the processes and create the storms, sea currents, thunder, etc. which make up the climate”.

While it’s “possible to treat temperature statistically locally,” says Science Daily, “it is meaningless to talk about a global temperature for Earth. The globe consists of a huge number of components which one cannot just add up and average. That would correspond to calculating the average phone number in the phone book. That is meaningless.”

There are two ways to measure temperature: geometrically and mathematically. They can produce a large enough difference to show a four-degree gap, which is sufficient to drive “all the thermodynamic processes which create storms, thunder, sea currents, etc.,” according to Science Daily. 

So if global temperature is unknowable, how can the IPCC and the entire industry of alarmists and activists be so sure there exists a threshold we cannot pass? Of course the IPCC says it knows the unknowable. In its latest report, released this month, it yet again maintained that the global temperature must “kept to well below 2ºC, if not 1.5oC” above pre-industrial levels to avoid disaster.

A few years after the University of Copenhagen report was published, University of Guelph economist Ross McKitrick, one of the report’s authors, noted in another paper that “number of weather stations providing data . . . plunged in 1990 and again in 2005. The sample size has fallen by over 75% from its peak in the early 1970s, and is now smaller than at any time since 1919.”

“There are serious quality problems in the surface temperature data sets that call into question whether the global temperature history, especially over land, can be considered both continuous and precise. Users should be aware of these limitations, especially in policy-sensitive applications.”

The global warming alarmists, who have seized and now control the narrative — because, like a child who won’t stop crying for a toy he can’t have, they refuse give up — have a credibility problem. Actually, they have several. The public will eventually forget about them all, though, just as it has overlooked the mistakes by those who predicted other catastrophes that never arrived, such as Y2K, the new Ice Age, acid rain, mass human starvation, overpopulation, peak oil, and the Silent Spring.

After all, humans have been watching Doomsday prophets fail throughout history. They’ve been so common we hardly notice them.

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  • As someone who once covered climate science, I agree with the impracticality and imprecision of a so-called global temperature. But I quibble with your author’s throwing the idea of a new ice age in with some of the other dormant extreme predictions. The planet has experienced around 20 such glaciations over the past 2 million years, and they have returned regularly enough to suggest that they are caused by cyclical factors, and that we would be foolish in the extreme to believe the cycle has ended–even if that prospect might remain well into the future. I tried to summarize the situation in a commentary I posted a couple of years ago, which also related a cautionary tale about the real dangers of certitude where science is concerned.

    • I took the comment about new ice Age to refer to such a prediction made in the later part of the previous century, not the well established sequences of glaciation.

  • “But a ‘temperature can be defined only for a homogeneous system'”

    Then there is no such thing as local temperature either.

    “Instead, ‘differences of temperatures drive the processes and create the storms, sea currents, thunder, etc. which make up the climate’.”

    Yes, differences in temperature, this is why climatologists are measuring temperature anomaly, not global temperature. This entire article is a strawman.

    “There are two ways to measure temperature: geometrically and mathematically.”

    Only the latter makes sense when dealing with temperatures that can be 0 or negative.

    “The sample size has fallen by over 75% from its peak in the early 1970s, and is now smaller than at any time since 1919.”

    Any calculation of the uncertainty range? No? So this is just a meaningless figure.

    “That would correspond to calculating the average phone number in the phone book. That is meaningless.”

    That is meaningless because phone numbers are not quantities. Global temperature simply represents the amount of energy in the system. It’s not meaningless and it’s increasing no matter how you measure it. The author is simply trying to distract from that basic fact by equivocating.

    “After all, humans have been watching Doomsday prophets fail throughout history. They’ve been so common we hardly notice them.”

    Scientific evidence cannot be dismissed simply because you claim the conclusions are similar.

    • I agree – the thought it provoked in me was, “What were they thinking, if at all?”

  • The authors use a 2007 short notice in Science Daily to make an impression that some fresh new doubts were thrown at global temperatures. They also fail to mention satellite data. Shame.

  • A most interesting article – thanks.

    I have one criticism: far from being a “predicted … catastrophe that never arrived”, Y2K was a potentially serious problem where disasters were largely (but not entirely) avoided because warnings were heeded and acted upon – necessitating vast amounts of detailed, difficult, boring and unglamorous work.

    • And all that unglamorous work did not miss a single system. They fixed every computer program on every computer…yeah right. Y2K was the “climate change” fraud of the 1990’s.

    • Thank you, you are quite correct. As one of the people that worked on Y2K remediation I can tell you we proved experimentally that when the day came certain of our systems would fail by turning the clock forward and seeing what happened in isolated systems. They failed and failed seriously. Thus we spent ridiculous amounts of money and brought back long retired COBOL programmers to remediate their software. It annoys the heck out of me to know that we worked hard to avert extremely serious problems and now its being called crying wolf by people that don’t even know that the issues and dangers and remediations were.

  • Temperature is really only relative to where you live. You can’t compute an average global temperature as there are too many climate biomes. One has to be aware of the fake journalism too going around especially by the NYT-oh hottest July on record. My question is where? You mean they examined all the July records going back to the 1800s for every significant locale & concluded that. I doubt it. I remember running in the summer of 1989 when we did have many more days of 90 degrees plus. It’s summer here in North America. It gets hot. End of story. There is no conclusive proof either way that we are entering an ice age or greenhouse age. This whole climate thing is bunk. Mankind cannot influence the climate of something as large as the earth. I’m amazed at some science sites how they consume this bunk. They try to educate the reader & instead of beginning with the sun & its role in climate they begin with the concept of greenhouse gases control our climate. Carbon gases absorb in a narrow portion of the infrared radiation zone. The earth’s air pressure is not high enough to keep this in the troposphere. We have radiational cooling at night. There are just too many other factors that contribute to climate but this is what the left does–it indoctrinates.

    • Some statistical distributions have no mean- an example would be the Cauchy distribution, for which the mean is not defined. You can calculate a mean from a sample from the Cauchy distribution, but when you increase the sample size, you get more, not less, variation. That is because the tails of the Cauchy Distribution are thick, and a larger sample is more likely to sample a point from the thick tails, throwing the mean off, away from the center of the distribution. For data which has a wide range and thick tails, the medIan is a more robust measure of central tendency because it doesn’t pay excess attention to “record setting” highs and lows. Oh, the median is defined for the Cauchy distribution.

  • “Average global temperature” has about as much usefulness and meaning as saying that a city has an “average telephone number.”

  • Fact based posts! In Arizona temperature routinely changes 40 degrees F in a day. The idea that a 2 degree shift can even be noticed is ludicrous

  • I agree that this notion of Global Temperature is misused and I’ll the even concede that this is a poor term but we do need such a measure (or indeed, such measure*s*) to enable discussion of Global Warming/Climate Change.

    Yes, I get it . . . today, there is very little “discussion.” Rather, we have proponents/opponents yelling at one another or, sometimes, worse.

    Still, climate scientists make predictions . . . Some say Global Temperatures are going to increase; some say they are not. Over time, we citizens need to know . . . did those temperatures go up or down because it’s important to know which models seem to be deliver better predictions.

    And it’s not just for climate science . .. . we see these “global” values all around us except, usually, the measure’s name helps one easily distinguish between the “global” number and the underlying elemental data but that’s not fundamental to the concept. We have, for example, the Dow Jones Industrial “Average;” the US Unemployment “Rate;” and the Consumer Price “Index” to name just three.

    We don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water which is to say, when a measure is deemed inadequate for some purpose, we often see the creation of a variant or use of qualifiers. In addition to the Consumer Price Index, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a value that excludes food and fuel and another tuned to typical purchases made by Senior Citizens. And if you’re more interested in what’s happening in California as opposed to Mississippi, you can take a deeper dive to, possibly, find what you need for your “study.”

    We know that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is based on the price of the common stock of just 30 companies. In contrast, guess how many stocks are used to compute the S&P500 index of the Russell2000 (no fair asking Google).

    With regard to measures of Global Temperature, I’m looking forward to when it will be easy to distinguish the competing measures. We’ll be able to see which “Global” values are from satellites, which from, possibly compromised surface stations (see, etc.

    And we need to see values that come from “slicing and dicing” . . . . Some, “warmists” predict large temperature increases in all dimensions prompting worry of an existential threat to human civilization; others, predict lesser increases concentrated, for example, in higher overnight low temps or higher winter temps – a much lower threat to human existence. Well! I want to know what’s really happening.

    So, that quote from Science Daily, “The globe consists of a huge number of components which one cannot just add up and average. That would correspond to calculating the average phone number in the phone book. That is meaningless.” This is silly!

    “A huge number of components,” you mean like the price of ground hamburger in Topeka, cat food in Toledo and pillow cases in Tacoma? These (and so many items bought by ordinary consumers) are added up and averaged by the Bureau of Labor statistics to compute the Consumer Price Index.

    It’s go to be done carefully, transparently, but once the method is established it can satisfy it’s design objective. In the case of CPI — that’s to get an overall measure of inflation. For Global Temperature, it’s overall measure of global warming (or lack thereof).

    Anyway, that’s what I think.

  • The guys at Univ. of Alabama – Huntsville, Christy and Spencer, publish monthly average global air temperatures (and regional temps) deduced from satellite monitoring. Their results, obtained since 1979 indicate a gradual warming of 0.0128 deg. C per year. This is a much lower increase than that predicted by general climate models. A paper by Christy and McKitrick tested the hypothesis that climate models could predict temperature change. Comparing satellite to model results, they found that models had less than a 1 percent chance of producing valid temperatures. Christy and others compared measured and computed tropical air temperatures. They found that the models with the CO2 concentration algorithm turned off agreed with the measured temperatures while with the CO2 algorithm turned on produced unrealistically higher temperatures. Based on those results, they concluded that CO2 is a weak heat trapping gas. These are serious researchers and their analyses are top flight. Conclusion: warming is real but CO2 plays an insignificant role.

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