Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where Did the Global Warming Go?

From Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe:

Jacoby lays out a fanciful scenario, and asks how it would play out in the media.

SUPPOSE the climate landscape in recent weeks looked something like this:

Half the country was experiencing its mildest winter in years, with no sign of snow in many Northern states. Most of the Great Lakes were entirely ice-free. Last December 25th, not a single Canadian province had woken to a white Christmas. There was a new scientific study discussing a mysterious surge in global temperatures — a warming trend more intense than computer models had predicted. Other scientists were admitting that, because of a bug in satellite sensors, they had been vastly overestimating the extent of Arctic sea ice.

Of course, there would be a huge media hue and cry. There would be flat out hysteria.

But what has really happened?
The United States has shivered through an unusually severe winter, with snow falling in such unlikely destinations as New Orleans, Las Vegas, Alabama, and Georgia. On December 25th, every Canadian province woke up to a white Christmas, something that hadn’t happened in 37 years. Earlier this year, Europe was gripped by such a killing cold wave that trains were shut down in the French Riviera and chimpanzees in the Rome Zoo had to be plied with hot tea to keep them warm. Last week, satellite data showed three of the Great Lakes — Erie, Superior, and Huron — almost completely frozen over. In Washington, DC, what was supposed to be a massive rally against global warming was upstaged by the heaviest snowfall of the season, which all but shut down the capital.

Meanwhile, the National Snow and Ice Data Center has acknowledged that due to a satellite sensor malfunction, it had been underestimating the extent of Arctic sea ice to the tune of 193,000 square miles — an area the size of Spain. In a new study, University of Wisconsin researchers Kyle Swanson and Anastasios Tsonis conclude that global warming could be going into a decades-long remission. The current global cooling “is nothing like anything we’ve seen since 1950,” Swanson told Discovery News. Yes, global cooling: 2008 was the coolest year of the past decade — average global temperatures have not exceeded the record high measured in 1998, notwithstanding the carbon-dioxide human beings continue to pump into the atmosphere.

None of this proves conclusively that a period of planetary cooling is irrevocably underway, or that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are not the main driver of global temperatures, or that concerns about a hotter world are overblown. Individual weather episodes, it always bears repeating, are not the same as broad climate trends.

But considering how much attention would have been lavished on a comparable run of hot weather or on a warming trend that was plainly accelerating, shouldn’t the recent cold phenomena and the absence of any global warming during the past 10 years be getting a little more notice? Isn’t it possible that the most apocalyptic voices of global-warming alarmism might not be the only ones worth listening to?

But for many people, the science of climate change is not nearly as compelling as the religion of climate change. When Al Gore insisted yet again at a conference last Thursday that there can be no debate about global warming, he was speaking not with the authority of a man of science, but with the closed-minded dogmatism of a religious zealot.
Of course, the religious zealotry isn’t merely the result of some arcane theology. It’s the result of the class interests of the New Class — liberals and leftists who can use it to extend their control over the economy.

Thus, in the past generation, we have had the DDT scare, the result of a book called Silent Spring by Rachael Carson (1962). We have had The Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich (1968). We have had Club of Rome The Limits to Growth in 1972. We had the “coming ice age” which dominated the media in the middle 70s.

All of these environmental scare eposodes turned out to be wrong, but all had one thing in common. They all justified a massive government intervention in the economy.

And that, of course, has always been the point of the environmental movement.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Chris said...

We had the “coming ice age” which dominated the media in the middle 70s.

It is, of course, important to make a distinction between what appears in the popular media and what is written up in the peer-reviewed scientific literature:

http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2008/11/the_1970s_global_cooling_myth.php

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an extraordinarily dishonest column by Jacoby. A few choice examples:
1. Jacoby cites researchers Swanson and Tsonis in support of his skepticism, pointing out that they conclude that global warming could be going into a decades-long remission, and that the current global cooling “is nothing like anything we’ve seen since 1950”.

If you go to the linked Discovery article, however, you find something Jacoby failed to mention about Swanson's comments. The article reads: "Swanson thinks the trend [which, by the way, is the SLOWING DOWN of WARMING, NOT the cooling of the planet] could continue for up to 30 years. But he warned that it's just a hiccup, and that humans' penchant for spewing greenhouse gases will certainly come back to haunt us. "When the climate kicks back out of this state, we'll have explosive warming," Swanson said. "Thirty years of greenhouse gas radiative forcing will still be there and then bang, the warming will return and be very aggressive."

Oops.

2. Jacoby then goes on to support his skepticism by linking to an article that supports his claim that 2008 was the coolest year of the past decade. Once again, however, he fails to mention other claims made in the article. Right after the point that Jacoby cherry-picks, the article goes on as follows: "But 2008 was also the ninth warmest year since records began in 1880, and 10 of the warmest years on record have come in the past 12 years. The temperature was about average compared with the mean temperature between 1951 and 1980, which made it cool compared with other recent years, the scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City concluded."

Oops.

Look. The article was entitled: "2008 was coolest year of a hot decade, study finds". This alone ought to give someone being honest some pause. And when someone like Jacoby points out that it snowed REALLY HARD in D.C. as support of his denialism, that just makes him look like a fool--or at least someone who does not understand the difference between weather and climate.

Jacoby's main point is this: "But considering how much attention would have been lavished on a comparable run of hot weather or on a warming trend that was plainly accelerating, shouldn’t the recent cold phenomena and the absence of any global warming during the past 10 years be getting a little more notice?"

The answer is an emphatic 'no', unless you are so committed to your ideology of denial that you can't see that there is nothing especially significant about 2008 being the coolest year in a very hot decade. (Not to mention the fact that he links to an article IN THE MEDIA that makes the point he claims the media is ignoring: that 2008 was a cooler year.)

This is a fine example of the way it seems to work in the world of right wing blogs. You link to some columnist in support of some belief you have, and just assume (rather than actually reading the links) that what the columnist links to supports the point he is trying to make. The next thing you know, you have an ironclad argument that Obama is a secret Muslim-Socialist who is not actually qualified to be President--or something.

And really, this sort tinfoil hat analysis has gotten so tiring: "It’s the result of the class interests of the New Class — liberals and leftists who can use it to extend their control over the economy."

That's right, people who listen to what most of the scientific community is saying about global warming are all a bunch of crazy Marxists. Blah blah blah.

1:10 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

It is, of course, important to make a distinction between what appears in the popular media and what is written up in the peer-reviewed scientific literature

Right, but it's also the case that the global warming scientific literature is much less unequivocal than the overwrought media coverage.

Check here

2:27 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

What an extraordinarily dishonest column by Jacoby.

You are ignoring Jacoby's point, which is not to argue about global warming (which he is happy to do elsewhere), but to point out that any hot spell leads to a frenzy of articles about "global warming" in the media, yet cold spells somehow are ignored.

Check the Boston Globe version of the article, and you'll see that he recognizes the difference between "weather" and "climate."

However, "climate" is just weather aggregated, and after a few more years with no warming, you guys might have to be less arrogant about your assertions.

That's right, people who listen to what most of the scientific community is saying about global warming are all a bunch of crazy Marxists.

No, they are in thrall of an ideology. They don't think of class struggle, they think they are above the class struggle.

But they aren't. Their opinions reflect their interests.

Do you think it's just an accident that every new bit of environmental hysteria serves as an excuse for government intervention in the economy?

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Right, but it's also the case that the global warming scientific literature is much less unequivocal than the overwrought media coverage.

Just to be clear, the peer-reviewed scientific literature is unambiguous as to whether anthropogenic global warming is a reality. Even Christy agrees that most of the warming is the result of human activity:

There is widespread acceptance of the basic premises that underlie [James] Hansen’s testimony. Plaintiffs’ own expert, Dr. Christy, agrees with the IPCC’s assessment that in the light of new evidence and taking into account remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last fifty years is likely to have been due to the increase in GHG concentrations. Christy agrees that the increase in carbon dioxide is real and primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels, which changes the radiated balance of the atmosphere and has an impact on the planet’s surface temperature toward a warming rate.

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2007/VermontDecision_20070912.pdf

The issue for the minority of scientists like Christy who are "skeptics" (as opposed to "denialists") is not whether human-caused global warming is occurring, but whether future warming will be relatively moderate or more severe.

7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For some reason my last comments did not make it through. So here is another go:

"You are ignoring Jacoby's point, which is not to argue about global warming (which he is happy to do elsewhere), but to point out that any hot spell leads to a frenzy of articles about "global warming" in the media, yet cold spells somehow are ignored."

If you were paying attention you would have seen that I did not ignore his point. In fact, I responded to it. No scientist thinks that global warming overrides other natural weather patterns that cause fluctuations such as El Nino and La Nina patterns. So it would make sense that as the warming TREND continues, there will be some years that are not as warm as previous years. Thus, the fact that 2008 was the coolest year in the last ten is simply not that significant, given that the last ten years showed unprecedented warming. Thinking it is is like thinking that a day in which there is no gun violence should be trumpeted by the media, even though the city is experiencing a summer of unprecedented gun violence. The only reason there would be to whine about there not being a news frenzy in this case would be if you wanted people to believe that there is not a significant problem with gun violence, which the facts are telling us there is. Something similar seems to be Jacoby's motivation.

One more thing to note about Jacoby's main point is that it looks like he is simply wrong, or at least he is exaggerating a fact. If you google "2008 cooler year", you will find articles in the BBC, TIME, ABC, The Guardian, to name a few. So the whining is a little pathetic.

"...after a few more years with no warming, you guys might have to be less arrogant about your assertions."

Here is the thing about guys like me, that is, guys who are in the reality-based community. If the science starts suggesting that global warming is not happening, I will be the first to celebrate. For some reason you think your background in PoliSci enables you to understand the motivations of people you don't even know. Mine is not the hope that government will take over the economy. It's that I don't want my kids growing up in a world in which some of the dire effects of global warming come to pass. I am not blinded by ideology or resentment. I just don't want my kids to have to deal with those severe consequences of climate change. And given what the scientists are saying, there are rational grounds for worry.

This of course brings up an important point: Why should anyone take your claim that people like me are in the throes of an ideology seriously when we have the bulk of the empirical evidence on our side? Wouldn't that fact alone suggest it is you who are in the grip of an ideology? I mean given the science is not on your side, what does that leave in he way of motivation besides ideology?

Don't get me wrong, skepticism in the scientific community is a virtue; it leads to good science. But you are not a scientist and your skepticism (or denial) is not rooted in the apparent facts at this point. So you really have no ground to stand on when you call people like me ideologically driven, unless you are willing to admit that people like you are ideologically driven to a much greater degree.

"Do you think it's just an accident that every new bit of environmental hysteria serves as an excuse for government intervention in the economy?"

This is the ideology that blinds you to the science: Any government intervention in the economy is bad because it messes with the magical, invisible hand that magically makes economies better. It is unfortunate that we now have to deal with the disastrous consequences of believing in that fairytale.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Realtor in Toronto said...

Unfortunately, Mr. Jacoby does make a point, whether it is the slowing down of the global warming or the chaos it causes in media. All we hear every day is how we're headed into an apocalypse and how all the trees will die out in 20 years and billions of people will have no land because of the sea level rising. But yet nobody cares that the global warming is stopping, lets call it global cooling started.

The issue for the minority of scientists like Christy who are "skeptics" (as opposed to "denialists") is not whether human-caused global warming is occurring, but whether future warming will be relatively moderate or more severe."

It definitely won't be severe!

Take care, Elli

9:05 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

One more thing to note about Jacoby's main point is that it looks like he is simply wrong, or at least he is exaggerating a fact.

No, he isn't. The fact that you can find, among thousands of articles in Google, references to snow and cold weather doesn't change the fact that hot spells create a media frenzy, and the heat is tied to supposed global warming.

But you yourself recognize that a hot spell doesn't vindicate the theory.

The media double standard is what Jacoby was writing about.

For some reason you think your background in PoliSci enables you to understand the motivations of people you don't even know.

Actually, it does enable me to do exactly that.

You ignored, in my post, the fact that there has been a new environmental scare every few years. We now know that all the ones before "global warming" were bogus.

How do you explain those?

Why should anyone take your claim that people like me are in the throes of an ideology seriously when we have the bulk of the empirical evidence on our side?

Begs the question. You are taking at face value the "empirical reality" that (first) reflects biases among scientists, and (second) reflects biases in what the mainstream media report.

Remember: a generation ago, the "new ice age" was all the rage.

Remember, for many years, anthropologists accepted that Piltdown Man was a human ancestor and largely ignored finds in Africa, apparently because the scientific community was heavily centered in England, and rather liked the idea that the "missing link" was an Englishman.

Remember, a century ago eugenics was all the rage.

You are vastly underestimating the extent of ideology, group think and careerism among scientists.

And likewise in the Mainstream Media.

This is the ideology that blinds you to the science: Any government intervention in the economy is bad because it messes with the magical, invisible hand that magically makes economies better. It is unfortunate that we now have to deal with the disastrous consequences of believing in that fairytale.

Thank you for admitting your own ideological biases.

Your version of "reality based" is actually reality through an ideological lens.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

It definitely won't be severe!

I look forward to reading your upcoming peer-reviewed paper in Realtor Monthly.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been real dishonesty in global-warming science. Consider
http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2009/03/kafka-at-albany.html
and
http://www.informath.org/apprise/a5620.htm

8:15 AM  

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