Washington Post opinion page editor Fred Hiatt continued to disgrace his paper, publishing yet another column questioning climate science by George Will, the seventh this year. “Cooling Down the Cassandras” (alternatively titled “For Alarmists, Ugly Truths on Global Warming”) is a master class in cherrypicking words and misinterpreting science. Will’s thesis — that there has been no global warming since 1998 — is based on his reading of a poorly written article about temperature trends by New York Times climate reporter Andy Revkin:
By asserting that the absence of significant warming since 1998 is a mere “plateau,” not warming’s apogee, the Times assures readers who are alarmed about climate change that the paper knows the future and that warming will continue: Do not despair, bad news will resume.
By Will’s logic, we’d have to conclude that the Toronto Blue Jays just clinched the A.L. East division title — after all, they’ve won six games in a row and are 9–1 in their last ten games, while the New York Yankees lost their last game and are only 7–3. However, when the Wonk Room contacted Mr. Will to confirm this theory, he responded:
You don’t seem to understand baseball. The Blue Jays are not even in contention.
Will’s persistent assertion that global warming has stopped during the hottest decade in recorded history is just as nonsensical as the idea that a team that is nine games below .500 is beating one that is 45 games above .500. Unfortunately, Will hung up before we could ask who he believed was the hottest team in baseball.
Essentially, Will’s “global cooling” argument is pinned on an ambiguity of the English language. Just as the Yankees are a winning team but did not win their last game, global warming is terribly real even if 2008, one of the hottest years in recorded history, was cooler than 2007. “Global warming” is popular shorthand for the well-understood phenomenon that the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is amplifying the natural radiative forcing of the troposphere’s temperature — and as the greenhouse pollution continues to rise, the forcing continues to rise, given the natural variability in solar radiation and heat transfer between the ocean and atmosphere. It is not shorthand for “every day will be hotter than the next everywhere on the planet.” As the U.K. Met Office, whose temperature record Will cites in his scientifically illiterate column, explains, it is a “fact” that “temperatures are continuing to rise”:
The rise in global surface temperature has averaged more than 0.15 °C per decade since the mid-1970s. Warming has been unprecedented in at least the last 50 years, and the 17 warmest years have all occurred in the last 20 years. This does not mean that next year will necessarily be warmer than last year, but the long-term trend is for rising temperatures.
In fact, the tremendous rise in greenhouse gases — now 396 ppm CO2-equivalents, 115 ppm higher than in pre-industrial times — is having an obvious and accelerating effect on decadal global temperatures, not withstanding the significant natural interannual variability:
,Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein takes George Will to task:
All this might be fine, if not for the credibility Will has by virtue of his column. But people who are reading Will’s column at their breakfast table and are not otherwise immersed in this debate might find Will’s thinking convincing, unaware that the points he’s raising have been continually and convincingly rebutted, and that his read of the evidence sharply differs from those of the scientists who are actually collecting and analyzing the evidence. That would be a shame.