Media Still Overlooks 90% Of Global Warming, Washington Post Still Won’t Fact Check Columnists

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"Media Still Overlooks 90% Of Global Warming, Washington Post Still Won’t Fact Check Columnists"

Decadal global combined surface-air temperature via World Meteorological Organization


JR: The Washington Post insists on publishing un-fact-checked anti-science columnists like Charles Krauthammer. And so while 2010 was the hottest year on record and the 2000s the hottest decade on record, we are subject to nonsense like “Global temperatures have been flat for 16 years.” Never mind that ocean warming, Arctic ice loss, and sea level rise have accelerated.

Just three years ago, the Post editorialized, “If current trends persist, it’s likely that in coming decades the globe’s climate will change with potentially devastating effects for billions of people.” But they still publish pure disinformation with headlines like “Obama’s global-warming folly” (see also “WashPost Once Again Publishes George Will’s Anti-Scientific Nonsense”). I guess the Post’s op-ed policy is one of those “current trends” the editors were warning about.

Rather than re-re-redebunking this, I’m cross-post a piece from Skeptical Science.

By Dana Nuccitelli via Skeptical Science.

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 (Figure 1).

Fig 1

Figure 1: Land, atmosphere, and ice heating (red), 0-700 meter OHC increase (light blue), 700-2,000 meter OHC increase (dark blue).  From Nuccitelli et al. (2012).

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

Figure 2: 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 5.2.2.3.  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.  This has been difficult to reconcile for those who previously focused on surface air temperatures – what do we say about “global warming” now?

The result has been the series of articles linked above, which begin from the premise that global warming has “stalled.”  However, given that the overall warming or heating of the planet continues at a rate equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second, this framing of the issue is clearly inaccurate and misleading.  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.

The Naive Economist Blog

The bottom line is that the body of scientific research suggests that the current slowed surface warming is mainly due to natural oceanic cycles, and thus is only a temporary effect.  However, a political blog for the Economist suggested that we should take a ‘wait and see’ approach for ‘a decade or two’.

The argument is based on both the surface warming ‘pause’ and the premise of low climate sensitivity.  However, research has remained consistent with the IPCC range of 2–4.5°C equilibrium warming in response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2.  Some recent research has suggested the value might be toward the low end, but other recent research has suggested otherwise.  In any case, even in a realistic best case scenario, we’re not doing enough to decarbonize the economy if we want to avoid dangerous and potentially catastrophic global warming.

Taking a ‘wait and see’ approach for another decade or two would be a recipe for certain disaster.  Fortunately that blog recommendation is at odds with the approach suggested by The Economist’s correspondents, who agree that in any case we’re not doing nearly enough to decarbonize the economy if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.

We Need to Hit the Global Warming Pause Button

The key take-home point is that we now have better measurements of ocean and global heat accumulation.  We no longer have to settle for focusing on the 2% of global warming represented by surface air temperatures.  Consider the analogy offered by Greg Laden, that the planet is a dog and surface temperatures are his tail.  In the past we only had a GPS locator on his tail.  It wags around a lot, sometimes accurately representing the movement of the dog, sometimes not.  Now we’ve got a second GPS locator on his body – should we continue focusing on the movement of the tail for old times’ sake, or should we shift our focus to the more representative measurements?

Ideally people will begin using the term “global warming” to refer to the planet’s overall heat accumulation.  Or use the term “global heating” or “climate change” or “global disruption.”  Whatever term is chosen, we need to stop misleading people by saying that global warming has “paused.”  The overall warming of the planet has not and will not pause until we stop increasing the greenhouse effect through our reliance on fossil fuels.  The warming will only continue to grow.

Dana Nuccitelli is an environmental scientist and climate blogger for Skeptical Science and The Guardian. Reposted from SkS with permission.

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42 Responses to Media Still Overlooks 90% Of Global Warming, Washington Post Still Won’t Fact Check Columnists

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Actually, media companies do fact check, but it’s performed by the oil and gas companies. “Science” is for geeks.

    This pattern reached its nadir with the New York Times recently, when both Gillis and Friedman repeated the rumor that natural gas has 50% of the GHG emissions of coal. This error is so obvious that it tells us just how managed and corrupt our media has become.

    • Sasparilla says:

      You made me laugh there Mike, although just a little, since what you said obviously fits with what we see in the media.

      Climate action, IMHO, will occur in spite of the “captured” print and TV media. Sad to see Friedman saying that, of all people at the times.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      ‘Rumour’. Ahem. Which Friedman? Not Milton, unless the old oui ja board was brought out. Oh, Thomas. Why am I not surprised?

    • Joan Savage says:

      What’s your source on this one?

      The US EPA backs them up.
      “The average emissions rates in the United States from natural gas-fired generation are: 1135 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide, 0.1 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide, and 1.7 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides.1 Compared to the average air emissions from coal-fired generation, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and one percent as much sulfur oxides at the power plant.”

      http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/natural-gas.html

      • Mike Roddy says:

        Joan,

        Gas is half the emissions if one only measures CO2 at the power plant. Fugitive methane emissions occur throughout the gas production, distribution, and burning stages. It’s likely to be worse for our emissions than coal. Count on Joe here:

        http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/01/02/1388021/bridge-to-nowhere-noaa-confirms-high-methane-leakage-rate-up-to-9-from-gas-fields-gutting-climate-benefit/

        • Joan Savage says:

          Mike, I knew about the fugitive methane, but you and I know that methane is not CO2.

          I’d like us to sort out both the issue of fact-checking and the more important issue of inclusion of relevant facts.

          Friedman’s March article referred to carbon dioxide emissions from methane used for electricity generation, though he said “less than half,” but still in the ballpark. In that limited statement he was largely supported by data. In the same paragraph he acknowledged that methane is far worse as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Points for that.

          Where he stopped short was failure to address the magnitude of impact from non-carbon dioxide forms of greenhouse gases from either coal or gas extraction and combustion. Had he brought out the estimated 9% fugitive methane emissions multiplied by the 20x green house gas effect of methane over carbon dioxide, then it would have been abundantly clear to his readers that natural gas is not a fix for climate change.

          It wasn’t the facts he used that were a problem, it is what was missing that contributed to the wrong conclusion.

          The Friedman article link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/opinion/sunday/friedman-no-to-keystone-yes-to-crazy.html?_r=0

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    Falling Lake Mead Water Levels ‘Incredible Warning Sign’

    http://www.knpr.org/son/archive/detail2.cfm?SegmentID=10158&ProgramID=2805

    PHOENIX — The heat wave is to blame for Phoenix residents setting a record for water usage last weekend.

    The city’s water department says 420 million gallons of water were used Sunday. That’s up from last year’s record of 382 million gallons.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Ten percent over last year.What can’t go on won’t go on. I do wonder when the stampede out of doomed areas will begin.

      • Mike Roddy says:

        Phoenix residents have cracked up, a product of the heat frying their brains. The sheriff hates Mexicans, and the people hold parties out in the desert where they bring artillery to blow things up.

        They’ll turn them on the Mexicans, blaming them for the lack of water, but will die in their tracks, like Civil War infantry. ET anthropologists won’t know what to make of the vast skeletal remains amid high tech consumer products. Good thing. It would all be too embarrassing.

      • Superman1 says:

        Mulga, here is a study on population growth in Las Vegas/Clark County produced by UNLV (http://cber.unlv.edu/reports/2012PopulationForecasts.pdf). “By 2050, we predict that it [Clark County] will reach nearly 3.3 million.” Not exactly a stampede out of the corral!

        • Joe Romm says:

          Uhh, that’s a prediction….

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          It won’t happen, though, will it, Super? The pips are squeaking. If the drought goes on, if the heat goes on rising, if the electricity and water supplies become less reliable. The ‘Sunny South’ is one thing, but 45 degrees Celsius? Then there is another Hydra head of the Collapse-economic doom. When, and if, interest rates rise, a lot of Las Vegas real estate goes underwater, and the occupants walk….surely not into the desert. Back whence they came, I’d guess.

          • Superman1 says:

            “and the occupants walk”. Are they ‘walking’ from the Jersey Shore? From NYC? From Miami? Many/most people are not rational about dealing with climate change, whether at the front end or downstream. Maybe ‘carried’ is a better descriptor of how they will leave rather than ‘walk’.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      I suppose that strict, enforced water restrictions would be ‘un-American’, ME

    • colinc says:

      From the article linked by CB…

      Eventually, Hoover Dam will stop producing electricity, and water restrictions will change the way we live.

      That is freakin’ hilarious! When the turbines in the dam stop producing electricity, “water restrictions” will be 100%, i.e. 15-20 million people no longer have electricity OR water… or air-conditioning or gasoline or food. Within a few weeks thereafter, 10-15 million corpses lay rotting in the sun. Unless there is a dramatic reversal of that region’s decade-long drought, it won’t be 5 years or 10 years or more, just 2 or 3 and that is assuming no “major” conflagrations.

  3. Jim Metzger says:

    I wonder if the term “slowdown” or “pause” is appropriate. Both terms imply that there should be a monotonic increase in temperature from year to year. If fact we know that that climate change does exhibit that kind of behavior, nor should we expect it to either since the forcing agents (solar output, the amount of dust particles in the atmosphere from volcanic eruptions etc.) are not necessarily constant from year to year.

    • Superman1 says:

      They are also based on the assumption that the allocation of trapped excess energy among the atmosphere, ocean, land, and endothermic processes remains the same over time. Not clear why this is valid on a year-to-year basis.

  4. Superman1 says:

    We have a real media problem relative to climate change. There is no single source that lays out the seriousness of the problem AND the seriousness of what has to be done to POSSIBLY ameliorate the problem. Economic interests have trumped the truth!

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      As the Rightwing Western MSM (forgive the layers of redundancy there) is primarily a propaganda and indoctrination system, forget it. It used to take years of reading books and obscure journals and attending talks by virtually unknown truth-tellers to discover the real facts, but today there is the web, and it is all there, in its abundance.

      • Superman1 says:

        “but today there is the web, and it is all there, in its abundance”. That’s like saying it can be found in the Science Citation Index. It’s true, but there are tens of millions of articles that must be navigated in order to get at the truth. I have done it because I’m familiar with navigating the SCI, but that’s not how we should have to find the truth about the greatest challenge of our civilization.

  5. BobbyL says:

    Of course the facts are on our side but I am afraid we are going to have to live with this oversimplification of the situation. Climate science is extremely complex and still not well understood by climate scientists. The other side is politically based on simple statements and avoids nuances and complexities. “It’s morning in America.” “Drill, baby, drill.” US vs the Evil Empire.” Columnists are not putting out news, they are putting out opinions. Why fact check? As long as the Washington Post fact checks the news that should be sufficient. If a columnist goes over the top with misinformation that columnist should be dropped. In this this case I think the columnist represents the views of the right wing in America, flawed as those views are. If a columnist is not telling the truth readers should send letters to the editor or post comments on the website.

  6. Chad Brick says:

    Any honest newspaper would retract this article, force Krauthammer to write an apology for having mislead his readers before being allowed to publish again, write an editorial explaining how they screwed up in allowing this to get through, and then require that all Krauthammer articles be fact checked.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      An ‘honest newspaper’. What a quaint concept.

      • Superman1 says:

        PART 1 OF 3. Here’s one you’ll like. Science Magazine is perhaps the most prestigious and influential science journal. One would think that every issue would contain articles about the most challenging problem of our civilization, whose science still has many gaps. Yet, a perusal of the latest issue (5 July) online shows only the following commentary on climate change; no original research articles.

      • Superman1 says:

        PART 2 OF 3. “The big news in President Barack Obama’s climate change speech last week at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., was his promise that the Environmental Protection Agency would draw up regulations next year for limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants. The country is already headed down that road: Last year, the country’s total emissions from generating electricity dropped to their lowest level in 2 decades, thanks in large part to the switch from burning coal to natural gas. The global recession also helped in that regard: Emissions have dropped 24% since peaking in 2007.”

      • Superman1 says:

        PART 3 OF 3. Contrast that toned-down glowing assessment with the recent Nature article that Wili referenced, which implied that we would need to double Anderson’s global CO2 emissions reduction number from 10%/annum to 20%/annum to meet the 2 C target (Extremely Dangerous). What a difference between the Nature numbers and those in the Science summary, especially since neither does better than place us in the Extremely Dangerous region.

  7. Aussie John says:

    The MSM has egregiously failed humanity – serving vested interests instead of delivering truthful news and information to citizenry.
    Humanities only hope is for the populace to observe the reality of more frequent intense calamitous natural events throughout the world does not match with the “business as usual” MSM propaganda.

    Intelligent aware people must accept responsibility to conserve a living environment for their children and grandchildren.
    An alternate source of factual information, (rather than vested spin) to explain the obvious climate changes can be found online at many reputable sites.

    The following site is a brilliant example, providing information understandable by all: http://www.grandkidzfuture.com/grandkidzfuture.com/Welcome.html

    I thoroughly recommend it to all, and congratulate its creator on a job well done.
    It deserves wider circulation.

  8. Jeremy says:

    So, the human population graph is a “J curve” and will collapse. Suppose this is one of many reasons why it will do so.
    Heading toward 10 Billion, of which, few will survive with or without the use of fossil fuels.

    • Greatgrandma Kat says:

      Or water, or food for that matter both of which will be in short supply long before we run out of or stop burning fossil fuels.

  9. Joan Savage says:

    The main point of Dana Nuccitelli’s article is that media has yet to point attention to OCEAN warming.

    I doubt if media knows how to describe that phenomenon well, at least until scientific research and review papers connect the dots to “news worthy” human impacts.

    What is already known about the interdependence of the ocean currents and the annual formation of the Antarctic sea ice may be the starting point. Another area where people may start to take notice could be a shift in the El Nino / La Niña conditions driven by ocean currents. Yet another could be disruption of fish supply.

    When ‘normal ocean cycles’ start to look distinctly abnormal is when media will have to pay attention to profound perturbation of the planet, way past the dainty term of “tipping points.”

    • Camburn says:

      The problem with the new heat sink, the oceans, is that the data prior to 2003 has such large error bars that nothing of certainty can be utilized.

      Also, what new transport mechanism skips the 1st 700 meters?

      Truly amazing isn’t it?

      • Calamity Jean says:

        “Also, what new transport mechanism skips the 1st 700 meters?”

        The top 700 meters of ocean aren’t being skipped. The heat is transferring down below 700 meters at very close to the same rate as it’s transferring into the top 700 meters from the air or direct sunlight.

      • Joan Savage says:

        Ocean heat diffusion and convection patterns, including areas of turbulent mixing, might be what you were looking for as mechanism.

      • Joan Savage says:

        It might just be a “Poe” effect of how we read each other on the internet, but the oceans have been a heat sink for a very long time. If by new you merely meant available data, that is something else.

  10. PAUL DONOHUE says:

    I think he proof that global warming has not slowed is the continuous rise of sea level:http://climate.nasa.gov/key_indicators#globalTemp
    The heat is going into thermal expansion and melting causing the linear rise.
    I think the oceans absorb more than the land due to more absorption, less reflectivity, and more mixing due to more waves from stronger winds caused by a more energetic atmosphere.
    I am glad to see you refuting Kruthhamer. I just wish more people could read it.

  11. Frances Barbara Fraser says:

    The endless debates about whether any of changes can be measured seems like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. The ice started to melt after glaciation and has continued ever since. 10 years is a very small part of that time. We have done everything to accelerate the process but unlike the little Dutch boy with his finger i the dyke, this will be flood.

  12. tomwys says:

    The blind continue to surround the elephant and the pronouncements become shriller with each “new” discovery!!!

    Step back a bit and scope the whole subject. Tax poisons, carcinogens, and environmental contaminants. If you think a “tax” can change climate, the third word in this sentence does not apply to you.

    • AlexR says:

      A tax, made revenue-neutral with rebates/incentives, could at the very least help foster economies of scale for newer technologies. Maybe not result in a fast enough sea change in the pressure we’re applying to the global carbon cycle, to keep rates of climate change moderate, but something might end up better than practically nothing.

  13. Adrie says:

    It’s so bizarre that the media can just blatantly disregard what’s going on with global warming. If anyone has interest in actually stepping up and joining a movement that’s making a difference in supporting the production of more clean/renewable energy please take a second to check this out & contact me here: http://www.gogreenmakegreen.cleannation.biz