The top climate reporter for the NYT has published what is arguably the worst article of his career, replete with statements that simply are scientifically inaccurate or misleading beyond belief:
The world leaders who met at the United Nations to discuss climate change on Tuesday are faced with an intricate challenge: building momentum for an international climate treaty at a time when global temperatures have been stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years….
The recent spate of relatively cool years is particularly noticeable because it followed a seesawing from unusually cool temperatures to unusually hot ones in the 1990s, said Vicky Pope of Britain’s climate agency, called the Met Office….
The global average temperature is now only an imperceptible .01 degree Fahrenheit higher than it was in 1999, according to the British meteorology office.
That litany of misinformation and confusion is what you expect from the Swift boat smearer‘s website, not the paper of record. And sure enough, former Inhofe staffer and general disinformation spreader Marc Morano couldn’t be in more agreement Revkin, running the blaring headline at ClimateDepotted: “NYT’s Moment of Clarity: UN faces challenge achieving climate treaty ‘when global temps have been stable for a decade and may even drop in next few years’.”
As we’ll see, Revkin owes his readers and the whole world multiple corrections and “explanations,” if not a complete retraction.
Let me try to set the scientific record straight, since the NYT has so confused the matter. First off, the most shocking thing that Revkin does is quote the Met Office in the same exact sentence he makes his most egregious mistatement: “The recent spate of relatively cool years.”
Relatively cool? Relative to what, Andy? Venus? Here is the Met Office temperature ranking of the past century and a half on planet Earth (see here):
That’s right, according to the Met Office, there has been a recent spate of relatively very, very hot years. As the Met Office explains, “over the past decade, most years have remained close to the global average temperature reached in 1998. All the years from 2000 to 2008 have been in the top 14 warmest years on record.”
The interesting question is not why the global temperature has — using the Met Office data — been roughly flat for a few years. The interesting question is what caused the step change in temperature rise, whereby the decade of the 2000s is going to be the hottest decade in the temperature record, much warmer than the decade of the 1990s, which at the time was the hottest decade on record. Hint: Scientists call it global warming. I’ll come back to this step change, this recent jump in temperatures, in a later post.
Andy’s questionable and uber-misleading assertion — “global temperatures have been stable for a decade” — should at the very least be amended “at record high levels.”
But it’s far from clear the original statement is actually true! Indeed, you’d never know it from Revkin’s post, which relies exclusively on the temperature record of the leading UK climate change office, but the United States actually produces a global temperature record that paints a very different picture than the Met Office. But then, that temperature record does not fit into the narrative Revkin is pushing, so it’s no big surprise that he omits any mention of it whatsoever:
The hottest year in NASA’s temperature record was 2005. So much for Revkin’s assertion “The global average temperature is now only an imperceptible .01 degree Fahrenheit higher than it was in 1999.” Ah, but in the updated version of the piece, Revkin added “according to the British meteorology office.”
Yet the British meteorology office said in its most recent published analysis of the global temperature record that “the past 10 years has seen only a 0.07 °C increase in global average temperature” — a 0.13 °F increase — more than 10 times the rate of warming Revkin asserts. And the sentence I just quoted is from the Met Office “paper published in August” that Revkin quotes in the article. So I have no friggin’ clue where he is getting his numbers from. No doubt he will explain.
And again, Revkin writes for the New York Times, and “The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies is located in the Morningside Heights-Columbia University neighborhood of New York City,” not terribly far from the NYT headquarters.
Using NASA’s data, it looks like the climate story of the decade is that the 2000s are on track to be nearly 0.2°C warmer than the 1990s (see “Very warm 2008 makes this the hottest decade in recorded history by far“). So Revkin’s statement could not be more inaccurate and misleading. And the temperature jump in the 200s is especially worrisome since the 1990s were only 0.14°C warmer than the 1980s (see datasets here). Global warming is accelerating, as predicted.
I’ll repeat for the umpteenth time, the NASA GISS data is almost certainly superior to the data from the Met Office aka the Hadley Center data (see “What exactly is polar amplification and why does it matter?“). Remember, “there are no permanent weather stations in the Arctic Ocean, the place on Earth that has been warming fastest,” as New Scientist explained (see here and here). “The UK’s Hadley Centre record simply excludes this area, whereas the NASA version assumes its surface temperature is the same as that of the nearest land-based stations.” Thus it is almost certainly the case that the planet has warmed up more this decade than NASA says, and especially more than the UK’s Hadley Center says.
If I sound particularly revved up by this piece of Revkin nonsense, it’s partly because we’ve been through this before. See my March 2008 post, “Media enable denier spin 1: A (sort of) cold January doesn’t mean climate stopped warming,” about a Revkin piece with the headline, “Skeptics on Human Climate Impact Seize on Cold Spell” and the graphic caption “An Unusually Cold Winter” — both of which I criticized and neither of which are as bad as any of Revkin’s own statements quoted above, which he can’t pass off as written by an editor.
But even more, Revkin manages to quote me utterly out of context without even having interviewed me! He writes:
In a post last week on his blog, Climate Progress, Joseph Romm, a physicist and energy expert affiliated with the liberal Center for American Progress, wrote that statements by climate skeptics about planetary cooling were “nonsense.””We need all the unmuffled warnings we can get given that humans are not like slowly boiling frogs, we are like slowly boiling brainless frogs,” he wrote.
The recent spate of relatively cool years….
Well, I do appreciate getting two links. But if you’re going to quote from a post saying that statements about planetary cooling are “nonsense,” how about actually quoting me in context and how about quoting some of the data I referred to, rather than this frogs comment, which was published with a link (here), since it is meant to be half humorous, but doesn’t make bloody much sense out of context of my blog.
And to put my comment back into full context, I wrote:
As revealed by the NOAA video above (via Andy Revkin), it is getting hot pretty much everywhere, except of course over the continental United States, a small fraction of the world’s overall landmass inhabited by a large fraction of the world’s deniers, delayers, and disinformers who continue to trumpet the supposedly “cool” weather of the United States as part of their overall planetary cooling nonsense. And that’s too bad because we need all the unmuffled warnings we can get given that humans are not like slowly boiling frogs, we are like slowly boiling brainless frogs.
That makes a little more sense.
Also, apropos of the boiling frog metaphor, I was talking about the recent NOAA announcement that this was the warmest June-July-August for the oceans on record “” despite the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century. The water is warming, just like with the frog….
I’d call it ironic if not farcical that my post linked to a Revkin blog post on that NOAA announcement — and a video Revkin himself posted titled “hottest summer sea surface since at least 1880” — and now Revkin links back to my post in a print story that says the planet isn’t warming anymore and might be poised to cool!
And that brings me back to Revkin’s shocking lede:
The world leaders who are meeting at the United Nations to discuss climate change on Tuesday, are faced with an intricate challenge: building momentum for an international climate treaty at a time when global temperatures have been stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years…
Revkin offers up not a single study to support that assertion, which he has put in the opening sentence of a New York Times story! In fact, the peer-reviewed literature supports the utter opposite of that statement.
A July GRL study predicted (see “another major study predicts rapid warming over next few years“):
From 2009 to 2014, projected rises in anthropogenic influences and solar irradiance will increase global surface temperature 0.15 ±0.03 °C, at a rate 50% greater than predicted by IPCC.
A 2007 Hadley Center paper in Science: “Improved Surface Temperature Prediction for the Coming Decade from a Global Climate Model” (see “Climate Forecast: Hot “” and then Very Hot“) also concluded:
Our system predicts that internal variability will partially offset the anthropogenic global warming signal for the next few years. However, climate will continue to warm, with at least half of the years after 2009 predicted to exceed the warmest year currently on record.
At least Revkin mentions in his piece that Hadley stands by this analysis, writing recently (here): “Our decadal forecast predicts an end to this period of relative stability after 2010. We project about half of the years to 2015 to be warmer than the 1998 record.”
Who does Revkin quote? Just one guy — whose own study doesn’t support Revkin’s assertion!
Dr. Mojib Latif, a prize-winning climate and ocean scientist from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel, wrote a paper last year positing that cyclical shifts in the oceans were aligning in a way that could keep the next decade or so relatively cool, even as the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming continue to increase.
That is not what his paper found! Nor does his paper at all support the view that temperatures “may even drop in the next few years.” I grant that Latif’s paper was monumentally confusing (perhaps even to him), but after a lot of effort — including direct communication with the lead author (who isn’t Latif) — I did decipher it on this blog (see “Nature article on ‘cooling’ confuses media, deniers: Next decade may see rapid warming“). I have repeatedly linked back to that post.
The bottom line is that, with the general caveat from the authors that the study as a whole should be viewed in a very preliminary fashion, and should not be used for year-by-year predictions, it is more accurate to say Latif’s Nature study is consistent with the following statements:
- The “coming decade” (2010 to 2020) is poised to be the warmest on record, globally.
- The coming decade is poised to see faster temperature rise than any decade since the authors’ calculations began in 1960.
- The fast warming would likely begin early in the next decade “” similar to th 2007 prediction by the Hadley Center in Science
How can that be? Well, I’m not going to repeat the entire analysis here, but the simple explanation is that when Revkin uses the phrase “keep the next decade or so relatively cool,” he means the “coming decade,” the 2010s. Latif’s Nature paper, however, predicts no increase in average temperature of the “next decade” (2005 to 2015) over the previous decade, which, for them, is 2000 to 2010!
So here is their prediction, in green (“Each point represents a ten-year centred mean”):
Red is the actual Hadley data — so you’ll note that their “hindcast” isn’t terribly accurate in the first place. But in any case, to repeat, as you can see, they are predicting pretty damn rapid warming in the next decade!
But Dr. Latif, who gives about 200 talks to the public, business leaders and officials each year, said he had been met with confusion and even anger when he tried to describe this normal variation in climate while at the same time conveying the long-term threat of global warming.
“People understand what I’m saying, but then basically wind up saying, ‘We don’t believe anything,’ ” he said in a telephone interview.
No wonder Latif’s audience are so confused by him. Even the top climate reporter at the paper of record is confused by him. Perhaps he should stop giving 200 talks a year!
The key point is that three major peer-reviewed studies are predicting global temperature will rise noticeably over the next several years. If Revkin knows of one predicting they “may even drop in the next few years,” he needs to let us know because he hasn’t identified it in either his article or his equally flawed new blog post on the subject.
Revkin should retract this entire piece. It is unsalvageably bad, and he has done a great disservice to his readers and the nation by spreading misinformation and confusion that deniers like Morano can trumpet as if it were actually accurate. I assert that in this piece Revkin simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and in any case has not provided a single shred of scientific evidence to back up his assertions.
The 2000s are poised to easily be the hottest decade in the temperature record, significantly beating the 1990s — perhaps by a full 0.2°C, which is actually on the high side of the IPCC predictions. True the global temperature record isn’t perfect and different ones disagree, but NASA’s is probably the closest to being accurate and all of them probably underestimate recent warming because they don’t do a good job of measuring the temperature at “the place on Earth that has been warming fastest.”
I will be happy to bet anyone [using the Nate Silver rule] that the 2010s will be the hottest decade in the temperature record, more than 0.15°C hotter than the hottest decade so far using the NASA GISS dataset. Any takers? Andy?
UPDATE: Global warming deniers, who are famous for making stuff up and taking things out of context, are trying to spin my proposed wager as a statement of what I actually believe the warming will be in the next decade. It ain’t. I was in fact offering a specific wager to call out the various delayers out there — or to see if Revkin himself would be willing to back up his absurd statement that “global temperatures … may even drop in the next few years.”
For the record, climate warming is not a linear phenomenon, it is an accelerating phenomenon, in part because of well-known delays in the equilibration of global temperatures with all the exogenous forcings and in part because of positive, amplifying feedbacks in the carbon cycle — the impact of global dimming is also relevant to the recent and near-term trend line. So the planet can warm, say, 0.2°C next decade — just as it warmed 0.2°C this decade, using NASA’s data, which is probably the best — and still warm 5°C this century, if we don’t act quickly to reverse emissions trends. That said, I am expecting the planet to warm more than 0.2°C next decade, particularly if there is not a major volcano.
UPDATE2: So far, no serious players in the denier-sphere have stepped up to take this bet. I should make clear that I am, of course, using the the Nate Silver rule:
You are eligible for this challenge if:
1. You live in the United States and provide me with your home address and telephone number (I will provide you with mine) and,
2. You are a regular (at least once weekly) contributor to a political, economics or science blog with an Alexa traffic global ranking of 50,000 or lower.
The reason for the latter requirement is because I want to be able to shame/humiliate you if you back out of the challenge or refuse to pay, as I’d assume you’d do the same with me.
I’ll extend that to Alexa below 100,000.