Debunking National Review’s lies about climate change

In response to Obama’s historic speech and new policy on climate change, the American conservative media has gone, well, predictably bonkers.  Check out this editorial from National Review, which starts off with a lie:

It is remarkable that when the scientific consensus on global warming is at its weakest state in years, President Barack Obama has decided to make the issue a new focus of his troubled presidency.

Shiiiit. If anything, the consensus has strengthened as a number former skeptics have succumbed to the evidence. In fact, just last month, a new massive project and research publication found that 97% of relevant science research publications and scientists agree; the earth is warming and greenhouse emissions are the cause.  What evidence does NR provide for their speculation? None.

We are then told;

Barack Obama, of course, is not a science guy. For example, he has flattered far-left conspiracy theories about common vaccinations, saying, “The science right now is inconclusive,” which is a position about as scientifically defensible as claiming that the dinosaurs went extinct because Fred Flintstone ordered too many bronto-burgers.

Although I don’t really see the relevance of the point, in 2008 then-candidate Obama did in fact say this. But (1) 2008 candidates McCain and Clinton made the same bogus arguments, (2) that was 5 years ago, (3) even at the time, his campaign clarified that this was not what he thought, that the quote was taken out of context, and this was not his position. Can we move on please.

Global warming, contrary to the predictions of the best climate models, is not accelerating. It is slowing, and some estimates show it having been reversed. The warmest year on record was 1998, and there has been significantly less warming in the last 15 years than there was in the 20 years before that.

It really is stunning how much staying power the “Global warming stopped [insert date]” myth has.  In short, it isn’t true. Global warming has not slowed and does appear to be accelerating. The global average land surface temperature has stabilized over the last few years, however, (a) this happens every time we are in the La Nina phase of the ENSO cycle, and (b) only 2% of global warming is going here, so it is silly to focus only on this metric anyway.

Below are snipets of rebuttals the gang at SkS have put together:

As we have previously discussed, the overall warming or heat accumulation of the planet has continued, and if anything accelerated over the past 10–15 years.

Misleading ‘Pause’ Articles

However, over the past week or two there has been a spate of articles from the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Republic, and Der Spiegel, all of which get many details right (including noting the warming of the oceans), but that all begin from the premise that “global warming” has slowed.

It would be more accurate to say that global surface air warming has slowed, but the overall warming of the Earth’s climate has sped up.  Only about 2% of the planet’s overall warming heats the atmosphere, so if we focus only on surface air temperatures, we miss 98% of the overall warming of the globe.

where GW is going

A visual depiction of how much global warming heat is going into the various components of the climate system for the period 1993 to 2003, calculated from IPCC AR4  Note that focusing on surface air temperatures misses more than 90% of the overall warming of the planet.

What is ‘Global Warming’?

About 90% of the warming of the planet is absorbed in heating the oceans.  However, until the past few years, our measurements of ocean temperatures (especially of the deep oceans) were somewhat lacking.  Our measurements of surface air temperatures were much more accurate, and so when people spoke of “global warming,” they tended to focus on air temperatures.

In the 1980s and 1990s when air temperatures were warming in step with the overall warming of the planet, that was fine.  However, over the past decade, the warming of surface air temperatures has slowed.  At the same time, the overall warming of the planet has continued, and if anything it has accelerated.

The result has been the series of articles linked above, which begin from the premise that global warming has “stalled.” The articles did subsequently discuss ocean warming, but the initial framing of the supposed ‘global warming pause’ is bound to confuse readers.

What’s the Deal with Slowed Surface Air Warming?

Research on the causes of slowed surface air warming is of course ongoing.  The question remains how much other factors have contributed to the surface warming slowdown.  For example, aerosols and low solar activity over the past decade likely played a role as well.  However, Watanabe et al. (2013) suggests that these factors can’t explain most of the slowed surface warming, which his study attributes to a more efficient transfer of heat to the deep oceans.  This result is consistent with the ‘hiatus decades’ found in Meehl et al. (2011) and (2013).

These studies in combination with Guemas et al. (2013) and Balmaseda et al. (2013) suggest that the more efficient ocean heat uptake is a temporary effect that will sooner or later reverse and lead to accelerated surface warming.  Meehl et al. (2013) suggests this will occur when the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) next switches to its positive phase.

Going down the up escalator

One of the most common misunderstandings amongst climate change “skeptics” is the difference between short-term noise and long-term signal.  This animation shows how the same temperature data (green) that is used to determine the long-term global surface air warming trend of 0.16°C per decade (red) can be used inappropriately to “cherrypick” short time periods that show a cooling trend simply because the endpoints are carefully chosen and the trend is dominated by short-term noise in the data (blue steps).  Isn’t it strange how five periods of cooling can add up to a clear warming trend over the last 4 decades?  Several factors can have a large impact on short-term temperatures, such as oceanic cycles like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the 11-year solar cycle.  These short-term cycles don’t have long-term effects on the Earth’s temperature, unlike the continuing upward trend caused by global warming from human greenhouse gas emissions.

The data (green) are the average of the NASA GISS, NOAA NCDC, and HadCRUT4 monthly global surface temperature anomaly datasets from January 1970 through November 2012, with linear trends for the short time periods Jan 1970 to Oct 1977, Apr 1977 to Dec 1986, Sep 1987 to Nov 1996, Jun 1997 to Dec 2002, and Nov 2002 to Nov 2012 (blue), and also showing the far more reliable linear trend for the full time period (red).

The second half of the piece is more political and fusses about the executive and judicial branches bullying the legislative branch, which the NR argues is where policy should be set.  Actually, that isn’t true, although I bet even Obama wishes congress would take this on and do something simple like impose a progressive carbon tax (which I would prefer to Obama’s new policy).  The GOP already shot down its own market based solution (i.e., Cap-n-trade, which I am happy about) and a number of conservatives are starting to talk seriously about a carbon tax.  I really doubt a carbon tax would make it through the house, but this would solve many of the concerns the NR has with Obama’s policy, e.g., increased federal regulation, etc.

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