“But what is lost in simplistic news stories announcing each new record, or worse, ignored in lurid stories casting these records as indicators of future climate catastrophe (and oftentimes promoting efforts to mitigate future trends through federal efforts to regulate energy choice), is that the on-going temperature rise is proceeding much more slowly than has been anticipated.”
It’s been eight years since I wrote this piece critical of the exaggerated “concern” that the Houston Chronicle showed in its coverage of climate change and its causes and implications. How has my critique held up?
Back in January of 2009, the Chronicle was touting yet another “warmest year on record.” This is was true then, just as it is true today (regarding 2016). The earth is warming up, and humans play a role in this trend.
But what is lost in simplistic news stories announcing each new record, or worse, ignored in lurid stories casting these records as indicators of future climate catastrophe (and oftentimes promoting efforts to mitigate future trends through federal efforts to regulate energy choice), is that the on-going temperature rise is proceeding much more slowly than has been anticipated.
And it is this climate model-driven anticipation upon which climate alarm stories are founded. If it is largely wrong (i.e., climate models produce too much warming, too fast, with too many negative consequences), then the foundation (for scary stories and federal energy regulation) is eroded.
In my 2009 piece, I pointed out that, in fact, this was the case—climate models were overwarming the future. Eight years later, observational evidence continues to prove this is the case.
Wow. Could the Houston Chronicle have fit more distortions about climate change into a 420-word editorial than it managed to do in its January 25, 2016 piece, “The heat is on: New data debunk claims that global warming is hype”? It’s hard to figure out how.
The Houston Chronicle article proclaims that “two studies unveiled in the past week provide powerful refutations” to claims that “climate change is either exaggerated or non-existent.”
First, I can think of basically no one who thinks climate change is non-existent—there is ample evidence that climate at local, regional, and global scales is has been changing and will change into the future—in part from human activities. On the other hand, I’ll gladly list myself among those who think that the impacts of coming climate change are largely being exaggerated.
The Houston Chronicle and the two articles it makes reference to, do little to change my mind—not should they change anyone else’s.
The first article was a pronouncement from “NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, headed by Dr. James Hansen” that global temperatures in 2008 ranked among the top10 highest temperatures on record (beginning in 1880). The Chronicle didn’t mention that each of the past 7 years were warmer, globally, than last year, or that the rise in global temperature has slowed considerably over the past 12 years or so, compared with the period prior. Hardly signs of a catastrophe brewing.
The second article highlighted in the editorial concerned a recent finding on temperatures across Antarctica. The editorial trumpeted that temperatures across the frozen continent were found to be rising during the past 50 years (something that had not been in doubt), but didn’t mention that, during the past 20 or 30 years, the icy temperatures had changed little.
Again, little evidence that something terrible is afoot. In fact, climate models project that, as Antarctica warms, more snow falls there, accumulating over time (because it is far too cold to melt in most places) and leading to a slowdown in the rate of global sea level rise. The Chronicle’s comment that a 16- to 20-foot rise in sea level could result from the melting of West Antarctica, while true, is simply something that is far beyond well-studied expectations.
Toss in a couple of throw-away lines about increasing ice loss across Greenland and expectations of stronger hurricanes (both of which have been greatly tempered in the recent literature, e.g. Nick et al., 2009; Vecchi et al., 2008) and you have the all the makings of a good scare story—rich in imagery but lean on substance
Nick, F. M., et al., 2009. Large-scale changes in Greenland outlet glacier dynamics triggered at the terminus. Nature Geoscience, DOI:10.1038, published on-line January 11, 2009.
Vecchi, G. A., et al., 2008. Whither Hurricane Activity? Science, 322, 687-689.